Karnataka forest fires: Activists turn to religious heads for intervention

The United Conservation Movement has written to Mutt Seers, Archbishops and Imams, seeking help

Karnataka forest fire
The forest fires have been raging on for about a week now, with ruling party legislators engaged in poll preparations.

As the fire in parts of the Western Ghats continues to rage unabated with more than 1,000 acres of critical biodiversity space slowly getting wiped out, the Karnataka government ‘s perceived inaction has raised concerns.

The deaths and rising number of injuries among forest officials, and pleas by environmentalists, have not stirred the government to act. The forest fires have been raging on for about a week now, with ruling party legislators engaged in poll preparations. 

Environmentalists have turned to social media and other ‘pressure techniques’ to get the government to act.

Watch: What explains the raging inferno in Karnataka forests?


The United Conservation Movement (UCM), made up of a group of environmentalists, has turned to religious heads to intervene and put pressure on the government to save the Western Ghats, particularly the Charmadi Ghat forest area. 

Environmentalists’ concerns

The UCM is concerned about the fires and their implications for the illegal felling of trees by the timber mafia, wildlife poaching and encroachment of forest landscapes. Already, the state government is against implementing the Gadgil and Kasturirangan commission reports on the Western Ghats. Now, it seems that the government is not even keen to preserve the rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats region, said environmentalists.

(The Gadgil Commission, named after Madhav Gadgil, sought to prioritise environmental safety over development in forest areas. The Kasturirangan committee was constituted to examine the Gadgil panel report.)

Also read: As forests burn in Karnataka, political indifference sparks anger

Meanwhile, the UCM has written letters to the religious heads of Hindu, Muslim, Christian sects and caste based groups. They have written to the seers of several mutts and religious leaders, including Nirmalanandanath Swami of Adhichunchagiri Mutt (which belongs to the Vokkaliga community), Rambhapuri Seer of Balehonnur Mutt (from the Lingayat community), Sri Shivarathri Rajendra of Suttur Mutt (also from the Lingayat community), and Veerendra Heggade, the hereditary administrator (Dharmadhikari) of the Dharmasthala temple and a member of Rajya Sabha.

In addition, they have reached out to Reverend Peter Machado, the Archbishop of Bengaluru, the Khatib-o-Imam of Jama Masjid, and the principal of Jamia-ul-Uloom Arabic College, Mohamed Maqsood Imran, as well as other religious leaders and chiefs.

Appeal to religious heads

Pointing out that 1,000 acres of forest land have been destroyed in just four or five days, the letter to these religious heads made an appeal to advise their disciples in the government and in political parties to stop the burning of precious forests.

A UCM member and environmentalist, Joseph Hoover, told The Federal that they hoped this exercise would put pressure on the government to take action. “As the government is not taking up the issue seriously, we are requesting the religious heads to emphasise to the government the importance of saving the forest, which is an immediate concern,” he said.

The letter to the religious heads said: “We are in the midst of a climate change emergency, which is being manifested through extreme climate events across the world. Despite being aware of the exigencies of excessive heat, drought, unprecedented rains, floods, and landslides, some people have set forests on fire. This is being intentionally done to avenge the forest offence cases filed against them for illegally felling trees, poaching of wildlife species and encroachment of forest landscapes.”

Also read: Kasturirangan report: Breather for Karnataka as Centre orders physical land survey

“The Charmadi Ghat has been on fire for three successive days now. More than 1,000 acres of critically important grasslands, the shola grasslands, have been lost. Our precious biodiversity has been destroyed in the process, merely to trouble forest officers. Four foresters suffered burn injuries while dousing the fire in Hassan and one of them died,” the letter stated.

More than 1,000 hectares of bio-diverse rich forest cover has been lost in Kali Tiger Reserve, which is burning right now. “It has been scientifically established that almost all forest fires are man made,” the letter stressed.

Kasturirangan panel report

With the Karnataka Assembly elections round the corner, leaders across parties are against implementing the  Kasturirangan report, which recommends creating eco-sensitive zones in the Western Ghats. They fear that they will lose votes as locals dependent on the forests will become anxious about losing their livelihood. And, contractors and business enterprises will lose out on their commercial dealings in timber, sand and granite.

“They don’t want to implement the Kasturirangan report, which clearly demarcated areas where people should live and function,” said Nagaraj Gowda,  a villager of Nelyadi in the Charmadi Ghat region.

“But why are they silent about the preservation of the existing forest area, which is burning? Precious wildlife is getting destroyed, including the elephant corridor in this region. This land is rich in biodiversity and is a haven for national endangered assets including tigers, elephants, medicinal plants and more,” he added.