August 26, 2008

State Gives Nod to Forest Cover Policy

By Radheshyam Jadhav

PUNE: On Thursday, the state cabinet sanctioned a policy aiming to increase the state's forest cover to a minimum of 33% of land. Maharashtra has 20.13% forest cover, less than the national average of 23.41%. The situation in Pune is even worse. About 50,000 trees have officially been hacked between 2001 and 2007 and this year about 3,000 trees have fallen prey to 'development' of infrastructure. This is beside massive illegal felling of trees and the 2,500 acres of land available for plantation being gnawed by encroachments.

The ambitious state policy aims at raising forest cover in the state to a minimum of 33% (101.54 lakh hectares) of total land, as per the recommendations of the Planning Commission and the National Forest Policy, 1988. Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra have a forest cover of 56% and 39%, respectively, in Marathwada it is a meagre 5%.

Pune has about 2,500 acres of land available for plantation out of which about 70 per cent is reserved and allotted under the joint forest management project. Of this, 987.5 acres is under the forest department while 812.5 acres is under the PMC is slowly being encroached upon. Beside massive illegal tree cutting in the city, the Pune Tree Authority (PTA) had given the green signal for the 'official' axing of about 50,000 trees between 2001 and 2007.

"This year the civic body has permitted the hacking of about 3,000 trees till date in the name of massive road widening program ahead of the Commonwealth Youth Games and the JNNURM works," alleges civic activist Vijay Kumbhar. He added that the civic body has not ensured replantation of the trees hacked for works under the JNNURM.

Green activists allege that the civic body is turning a blind eye towards illegal tree cutting. Rakesh Dhotre of Vanshree says that the civic body is negligent towards environmental matters. "Only publishing environment status reports, that too with hundreds of discrepancies, is not going to help protect the environment. We plan to file a public interest litigation against the civic body on the matter," says Dhotre.

Civic officials are on defensive on the matter. While Balasaheb Jagzap, PMC tree officer was not available for comments, assistant garden superintendent Ashok Ghorpade preferred to say that the civic body was putting in all efforts to protect and enhance greenery in the city. The PTA members too echo the administration's views. "Majority of trees have succumbed to road development works. JNNURM funds are sanctioned for the city to develop infrastructure and we need to utilised the amount in a given period of time. But we have put in maximum efforts to ensure that trees are replanted," says Tanaji Lonkar, a PTA member. He added that with construction activities on the rise, trees will have to come down.


Trees hacked with official permission

n 2001-2007 : 50,000

n 2008, till date: 3,000 (approx)

Land available for plantation is 2,500 acres

n 70 % reserved under joint forest

management project

n Under forest department control:

987.5 acres

n Under PMC: 812.5 acres


n Forest cover: 20.13%

n Vidarbha: 56%

n Western Maharashtra: 39%

n Marathwada: 5%

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