The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came down on the state forest department for losing 22 sqkm of forest area in the past eight years even after spending Rs6,881 crore on several plans.
The findings revealed that the forest cover in the state, which was 50,650 sqkm in 2007, reduced to 50,628 sqkm in 2015 despite implementation of State Forest Policy in 2008.
The CAG observed that the mangrove cell did not notify over 50% of its area as protected forest, thus exposing it to potential threats. The cell notified 8,662 ha out of 17,783 ha as protected forest. It, however, claimed to have notified 12,673 ha as reserved forest.
According to India State of Forest Report (IFSR), major reasons for the reduction of forest area include diversion of the area for non-forestry purposes, encroachment and delays in release of funds.
“The audit observed that despite implementation of State Forest Policy since 2008, constitution of various committees/ boards in December 2008 and spending nearly Rs6,881 crore in the past eight years on forest development works, the forest cover in the state decreased by 22 sqkm from 50,650sq km in 2007 to 50,628 sqkm in 2015,” the report said.
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, whose government was in power for the most of the audit period, said, “I have not read the report. Calculating forest area is not an easy process. The figures about forest area are provided by the Central government. I will be able to comment after going through the report.”
The CAG also rapped the state for poor allocation of funds in their annual budgets to the forest department.
According to National Forest Commission, the budgetary allocation to the forest sector must not be less that 2.5% of the total plan outlay. The CAG observed that the total outlay of the forest department in the state ranged between 0.64% and 1.1% of the total pan outlay from 2010 to 15. The gap between the funds demanded by the forest department and what was released was as high as 51%.
The CAG slammed the department for its inaction, which led to revenue loss. “The fund, if created, could have helped bridge the financial gaps and facilitated smooth implementation of various forest development programmes…,” the report read. It also said that the forest department failed to create green fund, as directed by the State Forest Policy, which could have been generated from taxes.