The deployment of an ecological task force (ETF) — comprising ex- servicemen who will plant about 2.2 lakh trees a year — is likely to cost Rs12 crore. A company of the ETF is likely to be deployed in Latur, the worst-affected Marathwada district, which has the lowest forest cover (0.56%).
The state government has written to the ministry of defense, seeking that the ETF be allotted to the task. The ETF comprises three companies of about 112 ex- servicemen. The government is likely to opt for only one of these companies for the first year, keeping the cost in mind. The work is expected to begin by June 2017.
The ministry of defence created the ETF battalions to ecologically restore terrains that are degraded, in remote locations and facing law and order problems.
The state government aims to plant 50 crore trees in the next three years, of which 2.81 lakh trees were planted on July 1. It will rope in the battalion to ensure that the trees are efficiently planted and their survival rate is maintained.
The deployment of the batallion is expected to cost Rs11.5 crore. A Rs8.5 crore recurring cost per year will include establishment costs such as salaries, food and other facilities. The initial cost towards setting up the battalion is Rs3 crore, as estimated by the forest department.
“We have been in touch with the ministry of defence since the past few months. We have prepared a proposal, which will be submitted to the central government soon,” said an official from the forest department. “The battalion has a better plantation and survival rate compared to the forest department . They cover 200 hectares of plantation a year, with about 1,100 trees per hectare.”
“Though the deployment is costly, we will engage the ETF as it has expertise and delivers good results. We end up spending crores on drought…this is an investment in one of the measures to avoid the scarcity. We hope the proposal will get the Centre’s nod soon,” said forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.
The official said Marathwada collectors have been asked to identify huge tracts of forest land that are severely degraded. He said ex-servicemen from Marathwada will be re-employed in the battalion.
Districts with lowest forest cover
Latur – 0.56
Osmanabad – 0.64
Ratnagiri - 0.85