NEW DELHI: India recorded a net loss of 367 sq km of forests between 2009 and 2011 with Khammam district in Andhra Pradesh alone losing 182 sq km of green cover in the period, the latest 'state of forest' report has found. In all, AP lost 281 sq km of forests in two years. The report, prepared biennially by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the Dehradun-based wing of the environment and forests ministry, was released on Tuesday.
Environment secretary T Chatterjee attributed the loss to Left-wing extremists chopping off forests illegally, and the paper pulp industry harvesting old eucalyptus plantations in Khammam. He claimed that the forests in Khammam had been cleared in less than six months with plantations being cut and the extremists egging people on to cut the forests as well. The report, though, noted that the loss of forest cover was largely due to the felling of eucalyptus plantations.
But officials were unable to explain how vast swathes of forests could disappear from one district in just six months. Khammam had also recorded a 56% loss of forests between 2007 and 2009 as per the ministry's reports. This reduction too had been apportioned to the cutting of plantations by the government in 2009.
The explanation, blaming the loss of green cover on Naxals, was also odd considering Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, which currently witness a far stronger presence of Left-wing extremists, have either seen growth or stagnation of their forests cover. In Chhattisgarh, a net loss of 4 sq km of forests was recorded while there was a net gain of 83 sq km in Jharkhand.
The report noted that the largest loss of forests, excluding the northeastern states, occurred in AP which lost 281 sq km of forests in just two years. While the northeastern states show huge changes annually in their forest stocks, these are reflective of the large-scale shifting cultivation practised in the region and the figures do not reflect a permanent loss of green cover.
A forest survey official said at the meeting that the AP government in its own report had recorded more than 100 sq km of forest loss in the state inside land controlled by the forest department. The central survey report records changes in forest cover all through the geographical area of the country and does not limit itself to land that is officially recognized as forestland.
As per the survey, the forest and tree cover of the country is 78.29 million hectares which is 23.81% of the geographical area. Asked when the government expected to achieve the mandated 33% forest cover, director general of forests P J Dilip Kumar said that would require a structural change in the economy where more and more people migrated to the cities and the agricultural land left fallow could then be used to grow forests. He said failing agriculture was already making people migrate to the towns.
The response from the government raises serious questions about the value of the report which does not demarcate natural forests from plantations. The FSI director general said neither had they been mandated to do the demarcation nor did they have the technological ability to do so. UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), however, does segregated statistics for the two types of forests for India based on reports submitted by the government.
The weakness of the report in bringing out the health of forests in India was evident when officials admitted that the 100 sq km of forests added over two years were really agro-forestry patches and not real forests. Though agro-forestry is important as a source of timber to take the pressure off natural forests, a growth in these mostly mono-cultural plantations cannot compensate for the loss of biodiversity-rich natural forests which are lost to development projects, especially mining.
We will lose more to timber mafia, paper industry and mining mafia if care is not taken. Any de-forestration for the development or resources has to be recompensated with re-forestration. And there should be a core forest areas demarcates which should be no go areas for any kind of Mafia. They should be cared for and protected fiercely as they hold the biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and what not.
I once suggested to my company's CEO to put aside a % of the Corporate Social Responsibility funds to adopt shrub lands on the periphery of reserve forests to replant and add forest cover. They are still considering it !
Unless corporations take responsibility or are held accountable, this trend cannot be changed. There is so much shrub forest in India that can be rejuvenated and converted into prime forest land adding to green cover, reducing soil erosion and bringing down particulate matter in the atmosphere. But who is listening?
Corporate employees on this forum could raise this request to their boards to set aside a portion of the CSR funds for reforestation/rainwater harvesting projects. In fact in an ideal situation, every billion dollar corporation must have such a team exclusively driving such projects. Instead all we do in the name of CSR is collect old clothes for the poor and conduct social awareness campaigns in rural schools. Not saying such activities are not important but CSR funds should be directed to maximum bang for the buck projects.
Invest more of Indian Forest Service officers. Give them plum posts and four times the pay so that they could denude the forest by illegal selling four times faster !! This All India Service is biggest farce on republic of India.