Mekedatu project is essential to overcome the shortage of drinking water: Eshwar Khandre

Mekedatu project is essential to overcome the shortage of drinking water: Eshwar Khandre

Bengaluru: Karnataka Environment and Forests Minister Eshwar Khandre—who is also the working president of the state Congress—has told The Hans India...

Bengaluru: Karnataka Environment and Forests Minister Eshwar Khandre—who is also the working president of the state Congress—has told The Hans India that he will set things right in the forest department. He also talked about eco-tourism, Mekedatu project and his plans increase in green cover. Excerpts from an interview

1. What are the measures taken on the man-animal conflict which is a perennial problem in Karnataka?

Wildlife-human conflict today is not what it was yesterday. This problem has existed for centuries. Our government has taken several measures to save the lives and crops of the people under the forest. Every life is precious, we are sensitive about saving lives of people. But it can be said that the loss of life caused by wildlife in our state is less compared to other states. For example Jharkhand has only 700 elephants. But an average of 80 deaths occur there in a year. West Bengal has only 750 elephants but 55 deaths occur there. Tamil Nadu has 4,000 elephants and an average of 60 deaths occur in a year, Odisha has only 600 elephants and 120 lives are lost, Assam has 5700 elephants where an average of 80 people die, neighboring Kerala has 2000 elephants and more than 120 deaths occur here but 148 people have died in the last five and a half years due to elephant attacks in the state. In 2018-19, 13 people died due to elephant attacks, 30 in 2019-20, 26 in 2020-21, 28 in 2021-22, 30 in 2022-23 and 21 precious lives were lost till 3rd September 2023. Yet every life is precious. Solar wire fence, ditch and railway barricade are being constructed to save this life. So far 312 km of railway barricade has been laid and steps have been taken to lay another 320 km of barricade. Apart from this, steps are being taken to ensure that the elephants in the forest get the green spinach, grass and water they need. When wild animals come from forest to town, people are alerted through SMS, WhatsApp groups and media.

2. Several farmers are facing issues of animals ruining the crops during yield? How are you going to help farmers in this situation?

In case of crop damage caused by specific wildlife, compensation is being provided by the Forest Department. Most of the damage is caused by elephants and measures are being taken to avoid the elephants. In Bidar district, crops are being damaged by black wild animals, and now a wild wild animal sanctuary is being constructed.

3. Has the forest department planned to promote Krushy Aranya Protsaha Yojane(KAPY) in districts where there is less rainfall? This will generate revenue in the long term for farmers.

Yes, KAPY Scheme is a good scheme. This will be continued. In addition to this, in the past, the scheme of giving tree patta i.e. the patta of fruitful trees to the landless agricultural laborers was in force. Now there is a thought to revive it too.

4. Will the money be released for the pending KAPY and other schemes of the forest department on time?

The previous government left a lot of arrears. I have come to know that KAPY funds have not been released in the last 3 years. This year Rs 10 crore has been allocated for the project and the full balance will be disbursed in a phased manner.

5. How are you planning to promote eco-tourism in the state?

There is ample scope for eco-tourism in the state. Recently, a high level meeting was held in this regard and it was decided to formulate a new policy for eco-tourism. A trek called Sandur Anveshane (Explore Sandur)is going on from the forest zone of Bellary circle. Adventure tourism can also be part of eco-tourism in collaboration with Youth Empowerment and Sports Department and Tourism Department. Then it will attract more people.

6. Eco tourism projects near sanctuaries like kali tiger reserve are anti conservation. This has been stated by the union environment ministry. Why is the government still pushing eco tourism projects near forest areas?

You are saying that the central government is of the view that encouraging eco-tourism near the Kali Tiger Reserve will harm conservation. Even the state government does not allow this in the most environmentally sensitive areas. However, sustainable development is the goal of the government. Implementation of some necessary projects will be done in an uncomplicated manner for forest conservation and wildlife conservation.

7. Why the process of Ex-Gratia for Cattle Killed by Wild Animals and other relief funds taking more time for which farmers are made to wait?

I have not noticed this. Farmers who have lost their cattle should be compensated immediately. No breadwinner should be kept waiting. However if there are specific cases let me know and I will suggest immediate action. Also, a report will be brought and action will be taken.

8. The Govt has claimed to increase the green cover? What are the measures taken?

Hasire Usiru (Green is the breath). According to experts, the coverage of green zone should be 33% of the geographical area. But this coverage is only 21% in the state. Most districts of Kalyana Karnataka have less than 10% green cover. To increase this, it has been decided to plant 25 crore saplings in the next five years. Planted saplings are geo-tagged and audit is also being done to see how many saplings are left. More than 4 crore saplings have been planted since last July 1. Over 5 crore saplings will be planted by the end of this month.

9. There are several schemes to maintain and plant? Why there is no field officer to inspect or check on plants being retained and maintained well or not.

Yes this work is going on. A third party audit is also contemplated. An audit will also be done on the actual calculation of social forestry and saplings planted in forest.

10. National Tiger Conservation Authority has raised serious concerns of construction of infrastructure projects near tiger sanctuaries. What steps will you take?

The state holds the 2nd position in the number of tigers in the country. The state is doing good work in tiger conservation. The central government is still counting on whether to release the money under the Tiger Scheme which is due to the state. It is also delaying the payment of money due to the state from Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). However, the state government will take steps to protect the endangered tiger.

11. There is a serious forest encroachment issue in Shivamogga. What steps are you taking?

Yes, I have also received complaints about encroachment of forest land on a large scale in Shimoga. Recently, there was a complaint that trees were cut down, set on fire, uprooted and allotted as revenue land in Kokkodu in Megaravalli range of Tirthahalli and Mutaguppe village in Soraba taluk of Shimoga district. An inquiry has been ordered and the encroached land has been recovered. It has been reported in the newspaper that hundreds of acres of land have been encroached upon, and it has been decided to conduct an investigation.

12. Mekedatu project is detrimental to cauvery wildlife sanctuary. Still the state govt is pushing for the project. Why?

See, Cauvery river water is the substance of life of Bangalore city. Besides, for Mandya and Mysore farmers it is also a source of livelihood. When there is a shortage of rain, Tamil Nadu insists on its share of water and goes to court. Thus, Karnataka, the upper-bank state, has to face difficulty. Thus, this project is essential to overcome the shortage of drinking water that we may face in the near future and to prevent the farmers of the state from suffering. We also need to save the forest. Similarly, livelihood should be given priority.

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