Timber tussle

Landholders want tree rights

By E Vijayalakshmi
Published: Wednesday 31 March 2004

resentment is brewing among the landholders of Karnataka's Kodagu (Coorg) district over who gets to have the final word with regard to trees growing on their tracts. In order to acquire absolute ownership of these trees, they have formed a joint struggle committee.

At the root of the matter is a complex land tenure pattern spawned by the Coorg Land and Revenue Regulation, 1899, and the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964. These laws do not give holders of non-assessed bane (dry lands) complete rights over their trees. Over the past few years, plummeting coffee prices and a rise in demand for timber have fuelled the controversy. Planters now want to fell and sell trees on their lands to offset coffee losses.

But what has also to be considered is the ecological significance of trees in Kodagu. The district forms the most important catchment area for Cauvery river. "If the Mandya farmers and Bangalore residents have to get Cauvery water, trees in Kodagu will have to be preserved," points out C G Kushalappa of Forestry College, Kodagu.

Non-redeemed lands are now the bone of contention. To fell trees on these tracts, landholders have to obtain the permission of the revenue and forest departments. Even if the green light is given, landholders are entitled to just 30 per cent of the price fetched from the sale of trees. "We ask for record of ownership and have no other role to play," says a state forest department official. Many in Kodagu feel that a carrot-and-stick policy might be the ideal solution. Not only would such a mechanism prevent plantation owners from indulging in excessive felling, it will also compensate them for exercising restraint.

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