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

The Hindu - - TAMIL NADU - Le­gal Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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