conservationists working in the Kudremukh region of the Western Ghats have received a shot in the arm in their tussle with the Karnataka forest department. On January 6, 2005, the Karnataka High Court (hc) stayed proceedings in five cases filed by the forest department against non-governmental organisations (ngo s ) and activists opposing mining operations in the area. With this order, all 13 cases filed by the department against them stand stayed.
The department had filed criminal cases against wildlife researcher Ullas Karanth and a few other activists, including scientist Jagadish Krishnaswamy, filmmaker Shekar Dattatri and conservationists Praveen Bhargav and Niren Jain, on charges of trespassing into the reserved forest area and interfering with the rehabilitation of displaced forest dwellers.
"Entry to the park is restricted but these activists violated Sections 27 and 28 of the Wildlife Act, 1982, by carrying out research and photography without permits," alleges Anita Arekal, deputy conservator of forests.
"Films have been shot inside the park without permits. While Rs 25,000 has to be payed for every hour of filming, this has not been done even as the filmmaker collects his funds from foreign donors," she adds. She has filed a case on this count against Dattatri. Arekal also alleges that conservationists conducted a project called "Community Leadership Tiger Conservation" in the park without permit. Apart from the activists, the various ngos against which Arekal filed the cases include the Wildlife Conservation Society, India Programme; Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore; Wildlife First, Bangalore; and Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation (kwf). The hc had stayed five cases earlier, while the Chikmagalur court had stayed three.
On their website http://www.indianjungles.com/221204.htm, conservationists allege that the forest department has picked up cudgels against them after they notified the area earmarked for mining as part of the Kudremukh National Park. Following a campaign by Kudremukh Foundation, a network of several activists, the Supreme Court (sc) ordered that iron ore mining operations in Kudremukh should be terminated by December 2005. Karnath points out that till a few years ago, the forest department had filed cases against the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (kiocl) for violating forest laws, but its stance has changed now. "Wildlife First, an umbrella group of several wildlife organisations, challenged kiocl's operation before the sc and since then cases have been foisted on us," he complains. The battle is clearly far from over.