Chennai: The Madras High Court on Friday directed the State and the central governments to use the funds available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for the removal of invasive plant species by engaging tribals and local community people living in the wild areas.
A division bench of Justices V Bharathidasan and N Sathish Kumar gave the direction while passing further interim orders on a petition taken up by the court on its own and a batch of PIL petitions.
Earlier, the judges were informed by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) that the MGNREG Act did not cover the provision of funds for weeding out the invasive species, lantanas, etc.
Differing from the ASG's submission, the bench observed that a combined reading of the provisions of the MGNREGA and the operational guidelines make it very clear that the scheme included the removal of weeds in the forest and also afforestation purpose. Hence, the contention of the ASG that the use of the funds under the MGNREGA scheme might not be feasible, has no leg to stand. The removal of invasive species like lantanas and other ones is an onerous task. It is not a or two days affair. It will take several years to eradicate the invasive plants and it would also require continuous monitoring, the bench pointed out.
A report filed before the court indicated that the invasive species are a threat to the entire ecosystem and if it is not arrested, the entire forest will vanish. The aging trees will automatically die within a short period. The invasive species will also suppress the secondary growth in the forest, resulting in fodder scarcity. It will make the elephants stray outside the forest and create conflicts between men and animals.
As the object of the MGNREGA is to provide livelihood security to the tribals, who are the real foot soldiers of the forest and anti-poaching watchers, they can very well be engaged in removing the invasive species, the bench said.
''Because of the above, we direct the Union and the State governments to use the funds available under the MGNREGA to remove the invasive species by engaging the tribals and local community people.'' the bench said.