Taxing times for Coorg

A new timber tax is a livelihood dilemma for coffee growers

By Deepa Kozhisseri
Published: Sunday 15 August 2004

Clouds of doubt over silver oa (Credit: C P Muthanna)a new timber tax has hit the coffee growers of Karnataka's Coorg district. Faced with a sharp drop in coffee prices since 1999, they depend on timber felling, mainly of the silver oak tree. It is now feared that the new tax would make them resort to increased felling, harming the region's sensitive ecology.

The state government issued a notification on May 10, 2004, amending rule 145 of the Karnataka Forest Rules (1969), for levying a transport fee at Rs 200 per cubic metre of timber being transported from plantations and other areas. This works out to about Rs 2,000 per lorry load. But timber merchants complain they stand to lose Rs 2,500 per lorry load, as they have already bought the trees. They also admit they would transfer the burden on coffee growers. "We have to get the money from somewhere," argues A Karyappa, vice president, Kodagu Timber Merchant and Land Owners Association.

On their part, the growers, who for the past year have been demanding the right to fell more trees on their lands (see 'Timber tussle', Down To Earth, March 31, 2004), are now campaigning to protest the tax. The Codagu Planters Association is preparing a memorandum in this regard to be given to the minister concerned. "The timber merchant is now going to push the burden on coffee growers, who are desperate to sell. In fact, growers might sell a few more trees to earn the required amount of money," says Uthapppa Vijay, a coffee grower from Virajpet in the district.

But in view of the ecological significance of the trees in Coorg, increased felling would have far-reaching consequences. This district forms the key catchment area for Cauvery river. Availability of the river's water to the residents of Bangalore and farmers of Mandya district hinges on the presence of trees here, according to experts. What further complicates the issue is that the Tree Preservation Act is not applicable to silver oak, casurina, erthrina, euclyptus, glyceridia, hopea, wightina, prosipis, rubber, cesbania and subabul. As a result, conservator of forests, Kodagu Circle, C Venkatasubbaiah, says his department would not impose any restrictions on the felling of silver oak.

The timber of the silver oak, which is grown as a shade tree for the canopy over coffee, has a good demand in the market. Its soft wood is used in the packaging industry.

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