Rail fence project around forests remains grounded

Rail Track FencingBangalore: The proposed rail fence around the protected areas of Bandipur-Nagarahole belt to curb elephants from straying into human landscape is yet to gain traction owing to legal glitches.

Though the project was inaugurated by Minister for Forests B.Ramanath Rai in April this year at Veeranahosahalli in Nagarahole, there has been no progress but for a kilometre-long fence erected by the authorities. Sources in the Forest Department told that the State has allocated funds in the budget and earmarked more than Rs. 210 crore for the current financial year, but the money cannot be released without an amendment to existing forest laws.

The funding for the project is from the Forest Development Tax (FDT) collected by the government by way of levy imposed on forest produce sold to industries. It is credited to the Consolidated Fund of the State, before being transferred to the Karnataka Forest Development Fund. But as per law, this amount can only be used for afforestation programmes and not other forest-related activities.

“In view of the technical glitch, the money cannot be transferred unless there was an amendment to the law or unless the Cabinet passes an ordinance authorising the release of funds for the fence works,” said an official.

Besides, there was legal wrangling over the amendment — which is being opposed by a section of stakeholders on the grounds that afforestation should be given priority.

The first phase of the project envisaged erecting 33-km rail barrier at critical areas of Nagarahole-Bandipur region.