THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Forest Department is as vague about the protection of mangroves as it is about the extent of mangrove forests in the state. The Department is not just reluctant to take over private mangrove forests but has no geographical database either. Since 2007 there were plans to take over private mangrove forests but, till now, nothing has happened. Result: a highly fragile ecosystem is in danger of extinction.
“Mangroves are salt tolerant plant community found in tropical and sub-tropical inter-tidal regions and are unique ecosystems which provide habitat for various migratory birds and breeding and feeding ground for many aquatic species,” a top Forest Department official said. “These forests have proved to be capable of acting as a protective belt against the tsunami waves and as such require effective conservation and scientific management intervention,” he added.
Way back in 2006 there was a move to take over private mangroves under Section 4(1) of Ecologically Fragile Lands Act. The plan was to take over 50 acres each in Kozhikode, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kollam and Kannur districts. But in 2009, the plan was shelved on the grounds that reclaiming mangroves could prompt private owners to destroy mangroves. “Instead, they mooted an incentive for private owners who protected mangroves in lands in their possession. An action plan was also drawn up,” said environment activist and lawyer Harish Vasudevan. “Truth is, till now the scheme has not taken off,” he added.
In fact, proposals for the acquisition of private mangrove forest under Section 4(1) of the EFL Act had been with the Forest Deparmtent for over a decade. A stretch of 140.80 hectares in Kannur, for instance, was specifically identified and demarcated. Even this stretch is yet to be taken over. Further, an Advisory Committee to identify the mangrove forest as per Section 15 of the EFL Act continues to be dysfunctional.
Even after the re-constitution of the Advisory Committee in June 2014, the extent of mangrove forest was not identified by the Department. “Thus, a lack of adequate data about mangrove forest in the State and the Department’s reluctance to acquire them under the EFL Act have severely endangered an ecosystem that is already fragile,” the Department official said.