Greenery Day 2018: In The Last 3 Decades, India has Lost 14,000 Sq Km Of Green Cover
As much as 14,000 sq km of forests were cleared to accommodate 23,716 industrial projects across India over the last 30 years, as per a recent government data. Furthermore, diversion of 77.45 hectares of forest land is likely to be done for the ambitious bullet train project.
However, a recent finding is sure to bring a temporary smile to environmentalists who have been concerned about the shrinking forest cover. The Forest Survey of India (FSI) 2017 report has said that the forest cover in the country has increased by 6,778 square kilometres during the last two years, with states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala as the major contributors for this feat. At a time when the country is targeting a forest cover of 33 per cent of its geographical area, urbanization and industrialization continue to consume a major chunk of forest lands putting liveability at stake.
Let’s have a closer look at the picture.
The weight of development projects
Today, when the housing demand is at its peak and there is land scarcity to accommodate the burgeoning population, the pressure on forests and their resources is at an all-time high. Depletion of forests has put the lives of those directly dependent for their livelihood in jeopardy, such as the tribal population. Illegal encroachments are rampant whereas mining, defence and hydel projects also take away huge parcels of forest lands.
Construction sector add to the woes
Although agencies such as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) keep a watch on constructions which may impact the environment, the fact remains that lakhs of trees and forests are cleared away for development projects such as highways or airports. As per The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, any authority clearing forest land for construction purposes should ensure creation of forest cover which is twice the area which had been cleared. It also has to pay for the land as well as maintain the trees for a period of six years. Sadly, in India, the replenishment through compensatory plantations is not sufficient given the pace of rapid developments taking place.
The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), set up under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAF), 2016, is responsible for collecting funds and coordinate diversion or de-notification of forest land for non-forest purposes. The Supreme Court recently questioned the Centre for not effectively utilising the sum of Rs 90,000 crore allocated for environmental restoration. The funds are supposed to be spent on compensatory afforestation and similar activities.
Only a marginal increase in forest cover
India State of Forest Report 2017 report shows only a marginal rise of 0.21 per cent compared to the 2015 data. The total green cover that encompasses plantations has grown by an area of 8, 021 sq km accounting for an increase of 6,778 sq km of forests and 1, 243 sq km of tree cover. Emphasising on agro-forestry, the Union Environment Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, has said that India is at the 10th position in the world with 24.4 per cent of land area under forest and tree cover.
Experts have argued that the increased forest cover, as shown in the findings obtained through satellite mapping, might be commercial plantations. The report also states that all the states/ union territories have shown an increase, except Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa. Moreover, a study by the Forest Research Institute (FRI) presents a gloomy picture which says that 60 per cent of the forests are in poor condition and require revival.
Loss due to conversion of green-cover and commercial activities
To meet the rising demand, over 5 lakh hectares of forest land in India is converted every year for agricultural or shifting cultivation purposes. The practice is predominant in the north-east as well as parts of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Besides timber trade and felling of trees for building materials, illegal logging activities have led to major loss of forest areas.
Draft National Forest Policy 2018
The Draft National Forest Policy 2018 was recently published by the environment ministry. Once implemented, it will replace the National Forest Policy 1988. The policy will encourage public-private participation in afforestation and reforestation activities.
Some key objectives of the policy include:
- Maintaining one-third of India’s total land area under forest and tree cover.
- Increasing forest productivity and improving livelihoods of people through sustainable use of ecosystem services.
- Safeguarding forestlands, protected areas and other wildlife-rich areas.
- Managing green spaces in urban and peri-urban environments and expanding green spaces outside forest areas.
- Incentivising sustainability in community managed community-owned private forests.
- The policy also focuses on better forest management through forest certification. This will ensure market access and financial returns as well as benefit the people, at large.