No green cover was found in around half of the 211 square kilometres — about one-fifth of Delhi’s area — where Coal India claims to have planted trees, forcing the environment ministry to seek an explanation from the country’s biggest coal miner.
Companies have to provide funds to plant trees, depending on the quality of forests cut down, for projects known as compensatory afforestation.
A 2014 Comptroller and Auditor General’s report had found that of the 1,03,390 hectares where trees were to be planted since 2002, the environment ministry had records of actual afforestation only for 7% of the land. The CAG report was based on records of ministry and state forest departments.
The Centre for Science and Environment, in its flagship state of environment report 2014, said compensatory afforestation was poor in many states with seven — Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Punjab and Rajasthan — not having planted any trees in lieu of cutting down forests. Only Assam and Odisha showed high level of afforestation.
To gauge the exact situation of afforestation in India, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) had asked companies, including Coal India, to report on the afforestation status. In response, Coal India had, at the last FAC meeting, reported how it had converted excavated coal mines since 2008 into green zones and claimed it monitored biological reclamation through an Indian Space Research Organisation satellite that provides “enhanced multispectral and spatial coverage” for 211 sq kms of the closed mines. “This was 43% of the total excavated area,” Coal India reported.
However, an official source said in at least 50% of the area where Coal India claimed to have planted trees, no green cover was visible through Google Earth. “It was a barren coal mining area,” the official said. “We have asked for each Coal India company and other mining companies to furnish complete details of reclamation done,” an official said.
The ministry has decided that every mining company will have to make a presentation on its compensatory afforestation and reclamation to the FAC with officials stating it would provide a “real picture” of the afforestation status.
This is important as the ministry does not have records on “actual afforestation” done by companies through state governments. Most of the money provided for compensatory afforestation has remained unutilised under the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund, a bill for which has been introduced in Parliament.