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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Forest department in Wayanad backtracks after protests

By K R Rajeev, TNN | Feb 5, 2013, 04.47 AM IST OZHIKODE: The forest department has withdrawn its decision to construct speed breakers on the three km stretch of Bathery-Pulpally road at a major elephant crossing point in the bio-diversity rich Wayanad forests. The latest backtracking by the forest department, third in a row in just a week, in the face of stiff opposition from organized groups has raised concern among environmentalists on the future of conservation efforts in Wayanad. Just in a week's time, three key conservation measures were shot down by vested interests by employing mob tactics and holding out threats of hartals. Among the other measures dropped by the department include its opposition to widen NH 212 passing through the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and ban on night time parking inside the sanctuary. Consequently, the road widening works of NH 212 from Muthanga to the state border commenced on Wednesday and the government has also retracted on the ban on parking of vehicles inside the sanctuary. Green organizations say that the vested interests, which tasted its first blood in the mob-induced killing of a stray tiger in December, were fuelling anti-conservation sentiments among people. The lobby, greens say, has tightened its sway over the public and was now dictating terms even on day-to-day forest management issues. According to forest department sources, the Kuruchiad range officer had written to the PWD department to construct speed breakers on the Bathery- Pulpally road at a distance of 200 metres from Kuppady (4th mile) to Chethalayam(6th mile ) as the stretch was a major animal crossing point on their way to reach the scarce water bodies in the sanctuary. But the move invited the wrath of the public forcing the department to write another letter to the PWD department not to take up the works. "Now the general mood in Wayanad is very much antagonistic to all things connected to forests and environment. Certain vested interests, with the support of political parties, trade organisations and even religious groups, have succeeded in creating a fear psychosis among the people. It is shocking to see that public are even not ready to tolerate 4-5 humps on a road for wildlife protection," N Badusha, president of Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi said. A senior forest official told TOI that the retraction on the three operational issues showed the level of pressure faced by forest officials in the area. "All this will definitely affect the morale of the forest force," he said. Meanwhile Wayanad Samrakshana Samithi, said that most of the controversial orders, like the parking ban, were made by bureaucrats without taking the people into confidence. "Wayanad is a special case in the entire country as 38 percent of the land is under forest cover. In addition, a further around 30 percent of the land is covered by plantations. It is not proper to impose additional arbitrary restrictions on people. All conservations activities should be implemented only after taking the people into confidence," Adv. P Chathukutty, President of the Samithi said.

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