Panel formed to suggest ways to weed out invasive species
Judges express concern over shrinking of native shola forests and grasslands on the Western Ghats
Expressing serious concern over exotic invasive species having stifled the growth of native shola forests and grasslands on the Western Ghats, the Madras High Court on Friday constituted an expert committee to suggest ways and means to remove the alien species and rehabilitate the forests.
A Division Bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and N. Sathish Kumar passed the interim order on a batch of public interest litigation petitions filed in the Madurai Bench of the court against the growth of wattle and eucalyptus trees in the Western Ghats primarily to exploit them for commercial purposes. Penning an exhaustive judgment, the Bench pointed out that not all alien species were invasive.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines invasive alien species to be those which establish themselves in ecosystems and threaten native biological diversity.
No indigenous trees
As per the data produced by the State government, the domination of invasive species in the Western Ghats was between 65 to 75% and in places occupied by the exotic trees there was no secondary or fresh growth of indigenous trees or plants including grass which serves as food for the elephants.
“The standing trees on the first blush might give the impression of a healthy forest, but they actually deliver the sad story of aging and dying. More weaker they become, the greater the spreading of invasive species. The crisis is impending and looming notwithstanding the efforts put forth by the State till now,” the judges said.
Mr. Justice Sundresh pointed out that wattle and pine were invasive species while eucalyptus was only an exotic species. Yet, there was an apprehension of the eucalyptus also being harmful to the natural forests and hence the expert committee could study the issue, he said.
The judges requested the committee appointed by them under the leadership of Cherukuri Raghavendra Babu, chairman, Expert Committee on Invasive Species, National Biodiversity Authority, Chennai, to study all aspects related to forests including the need for changes in school curriculum to sensitise children towards the need to protect forests.
Asking advocates T. Mohan and M. Santhanaraman to continue to assist the court as amicus curiae, the judges said, the committee could study issues such as banning plastic in forest zone, prohibiting vehicles that pollute, employing local population, increasing forest staff strength, creating a strong seed bank and so on.
The State government was directed to facilitate the meetings of the committee so that it could place a report before the court within two months from its first meeting.
In places occupied by the exotic trees there was no secondary or fresh growth of indigenous trees or plants, including grass.