In a major development, the Karnataka Forest Service has recommended that the Jog Management Authority obtain environmental and wildlife clearances in advance for a proposed tourism development project in the Jog Falls area of Shivamogga District.
It is important to note that the recommendation applies not only to the five-star hotel proposal for which forest diversion was sought, but also to the proposed mega-tourism activities on the yield land. The recommendation came in response to objections raised by conservationist Giridhar Kulkarni.
KB Shivakumar, Deputy Commissioner (Shivamogga) and Chief Executive Officer, Jog Management Authority (User Agency), had submitted a proposal to divert 0.8536 hectares of forest land in Nadawada Talakalale Village, Sagar Taluk for the construction of a five-star hotel Location of existing guest house PWD.
The Karnataka Forest Service also recommended the proposal and referred the proposal to the state government on July 14, 2021, with a request that the proposal be referred to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for an “in principle” permit under Forest to Preserve (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Kulkarni submitted detailed objections to the state government, the Karnataka Biodiversity Board, the Forest Department of Karnataka and the Integrated Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment on July 26, 2021, calling for the proposal to be rejected on the grounds that it violates the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act , 1980. He also mentioned that a similar proposal in the same place was rejected by the Ministry in 2014 in the interests of forest protection. He further highlighted that the state government has allocated Rs 185 crore to the user agency to build a five-star hotel, cable car and other tourism activities in the area, but the current proposal put forward by the user agency involves a forest diversion is aiming to build the five-star hotel only.
“Also, the other tourism activities proposed on non-forested land require environmental and wildlife clearances from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife in accordance with the 2006 EIA Notice and guidelines issued by the MoEF&CC,” the objections read.
The user agency also sought 18.74 acres of land (excluding the area proposed for the construction of a five-star hotel) to conduct tourism development activities.
Due to the objections raised by Kulkarni, the Ministry of Environment wrote to the state government in August 2021 to take appropriate measures according to the existing rules and regulations. In September 2021, the state government asked the forestry office for a detailed answer with instructions to examine the objections.
In response to the state government, the Office of the Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of the Forest Service) agreed with the objections raised by Kulkarni. However, the project was recommended.
Official documents accessed by The Indian Express show that former Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Sanjai Mohan stated in his letter to the Office of the Additional Chief Secretary (Forest, Ecology and Environment) on February 21 that the Jog Management Authority, Shivamogga, should seek environmental clearance and approval from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife before construction of the five-star hotel near Jog Falls begins. “The proposed forest area for the diversion is within 10 km from the boundary of the Sharavathi Valley Lion-tailed Macaque Sanctuary. Although the Environmentally Sensitive Zone for the sanctuary has not yet been reported and the process to report the Environmentally Sensitive Zone (ESZ) is underway, the Supreme Court of India ruling in 2006 found that it applies to any Wildlife Sanctuary if ESZ was not notified, in such a situation, the area within 10 km from the boundary of the protected area should be considered an SPC by default,” the letter reads.
“Therefore, in the final opinion, if the SPC is not notified, in such areas within 10 km from the boundary of the protected area, its adopted SPC shall apply. Any project that requires environmental clearance should also receive approval from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife. According to the Environmental Clearance Notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, a built-up area of more than 20,000 square meters requires an environmental clearance. Therefore, here the user agency Jog Management Authority has to make a decision on the environmental release requirement for the various development activities within 10 km from the standard ESZ,” the PCCF explained in the letter.