The Goenchea Xetkarancho Ekvott (GXE) has demanded that the draft Forest Policy as notified by the department be scrapped lock, stock and barrel and an entirely new policy be drafted by involving all the stake holders including the tribals and experts and involving the people at large through a public debate.
Following the Forest Department’s notification inviting suggestions to the draft Forest Policy GXE has submitted its suggestions after identifying the problems faced in maintaining the forests in Goa and also the lacunae in the existing policy.
As for the problems facing the forest land in Goa, GXE pointed out that satellite images show large red craters along the Western Ghat regions of Goa thereby indicating that this area is under severe threat from mining.
Ironically, the Forest Department instead of protecting the forest land has been conniving to change it to non-forest uses, allege GXE while pointing out that the Forest Department has permitted large scale diversion of forest land for mining activity. Besides, the Forest Department has also permitted construction of roads through forest land for the purpose of mining activity.
Besides, they pointed out that the Forest Rights Act 2006 is not yet implemented in Goa and the Forest Department has refused to notify the 5 to 10 kms buffer zone around the protected forests of the State and instead has been sticking to “zero” buffer zone to help vested interests much against the interest of protecting the forest land.
The Forest Department while failing to protect the interest and rights of the tribal inhabitants of the forest areas, is also guilty of handing over Forest department land for mining activity.
The GXE has also charged the Forest Department of deliberately denying the existence of tiger in Goa’s forest and failed to collect data on other wild animals including leopards which abound in the State and further pointed out that the department has not carried out the survey of Forests for the last 15 years due to which large forest lands have now been converted to other uses including housing and industries.
The Forest Department has also been accused of not checking the vehicles passing through the various check posts as a result of which lot of timber and other forest wealth is smuggled out not only by mining firms but even others.
Failure of the Forest Department to protect the plateaus in the State which have the highest number of endemic species has resulted in not only loss of these rare plants but also the land which has now been converted for industrial and even housing purposes.
The GXE has also held the Forest Department guilty of failing to protect the wet lands of the State which play host to lakhs of migratory birds every year despite directions from the High Court of Bombay at Goa.
Besides, the Forest Department has been accused of destroying the natural forest cover of the State by going in for monoculture plantations like eucalyptus, teak and even acacia.
Ironically, the Forest Department even failed to take care of the land given to it by various communidades for social forestry as most of them are either barren or used for other purposes like quarrying as is observed in Sao Jose de Areal.
The GXE also observed that the Goa State Forest Policy 2009 has failed to address any of the problems as listed above nor taken cognizance of the fact that the Forest Department has failed in its task.
The two new vistas proposed in the new policy are also contrary to the principle of forest land being protected for preservation and proliferation of natural bio diversity.
As for the eco-tourism proposed in the new Forest Policy, GXE asserted that it is against the interest of forests and warned that the already under threat forests land of the State will be further threatened under the guise of promoting tourism in this virgin areas.
The GXE in fact accused the Department of dancing to the tunes of vested interests who have acquired in huge tracts of forest land with an aim to commercially exploit these lands and by promoting eco-tourism, giving them the means to use the forest land for commercial purpose.
The GXE has also condemned the Forest Department’s policy for rehabilitation of mining sites on grounds that rehabilitation of these sites was the responsibility of the mining firms that has made enormous profits and the government funds should not be spent on it but that the mining firm should be forced to honour their responsibility.
The GXE has also pointed out various mistakes in the new proposed Forest Policy. For example, while the policy states that there are plenty of fallow lands in Goa, the Forest Department has stated that since no land was available, mining firms could not undertake compensatory afforestation.
Besides, the new policy does not acknowledge private forests including those already identified.
Though the new policy states that the beaches of Agonda and Morjim be protected being turtle nesting sites, the Forest Department has permitted large scale tourism activity at both the beaches and Galgibag yet another turtle nesting site is not even mentioned in the new policy probably because the tourism industry is planning a golf course, hotels and shacks on this beach.