The “afforestation” programme in UP's Bundelkhand appears to have fallen flat on its face.
Faded signboards and empty, broken tree guards are all that’s left of the Rs. 200 crore drive carried out over the last six years. Of the 16 crore saplings planted across Banda, Chitrakoot, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Jalaun and Jhansi, few remain.
Indeed, the entire area appears less green than before.
While the facts were discovered following an RTI application, none of the officials were ready to speak on record about a key cause — that most plants died because they were not chosen with an eye to the local environment. Instead of sturdy species that can survive the dry climate, species that require plenty of water were planted.
“Given the government deadlines, we simply do a ‘blind’ procurement, meeting the target in numbers,” said an official of the forest department. “There have been cases where water-intensive eucalyptus has been planted.” Banda-based RTI activist Ashish Sagar, who filed the application, has a different view.
“Most of us suspect that money had been siphoned off,” he said. “In places where saplings were planted, the plants were not looked after and eventually, they died.”
The replies, which took almost a year to arrive, revealed that Banda, Chitrakoot, Mahoba and Hamirpur had each spent over R25 crore on the drive.
As many as 37.8 lakh saplings were planted in Banda, 4.3 crore each in Chitrakoot and Mahoba and 1.6 crore in Hamirpur. Jalaun spent over R43 crore and planted 98.6 lakh saplings. Jhansi spent over R54 crore and planted 4.5 crore saplings.
There were discrepancies in the data that he received. For the same amount of money, Banda, Chitrakoot and Hamirpur received widely different number of saplings.
RK Singh, chief conservator of forest, Bundelkhand, however, told HT that in most cases the money spent and the number of saplings planted cannot be related.
“The cost of a plant is negligible. But in case tree guards or fencing is provided, their cost goes up,” he said.Another plantation drive is going on in Bundelkhand this monsoon. Is more money being wasted? Time alone can tell.