Large-scale deforestation, illegal brick kilns and deliberate forest fires are threatening reserved forests in Wada taluka in Thane district, claim environmentalists.
According to them, the Wada region is rapidly losing its tree cover. The Vaitarna river basin that supplies drinking water to Mumbai flows through Wada.
A drive through the reserve forest shows axed trees and illegal brick kilns constantly emitting fumes on either sides of the road. The activity of making bricks by locals has gained momentum over the last few years with real estate development in the Vasai-Virar belt.
“Deforestation, which leads to a rise in temperature and consequent evaporation of the surface water, along with overuse of top soil for making bricks is turning the once densely-forested zone into a semi-arid zone,” said environmentalist Stalin D of Vanashakti, a non-government organisation.
Locals use fertile soil from the top layer, which measures about three feet, to make bricks. Loss of nutrients and bacteria makes the land unfit for plant growth because the deeper layers of the soil have a harder surface compared to the uppermost layers.
Confirming that locals make bricks during the summer, Clement Ben, deputy conservator of forest, Jawahar region, said that he was unaware of the deforestation.
“There are five different types of forest such as reserved, identified and acquired under my jurisdiction. I will have to ascertain the exact place
where deforestation is taking place. I will send my patrolling team to inspect the area,” said Ben.
At present, Maharashtra’s forest cover is 21 per cent, instead of the desirable 33 per cent, with a poor success record of compensatory forestation.
“Driven by poverty, locals cut trees and start forest fires; ignorant that they are destroying the same forest they are dependent on for their survival. It is important to involve them for joint forest management,” said Stalin.