The Punjab forest department has decided to axe more than 30,000 trees under a project to rejuvenate the Bist Doab Canal in Doaba region without having any plans to compensate the lost forest cover.
In all development projects where trees are cut, the forest department takes money from the agency executing the project, including its net current value, in keeping with the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act. The department then uses the money to plant double the number of trees to compensate the loss to environment.
The felling of trees in this case will start next week. However, there will be no compensatory planting of trees as the forest department claims that the land on which these trees are standing belongs to the irrigation department. Principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Balbir Kumar, who has given the permission for felling the trees, said, “We cannot ask for money in compensation as the land belongs to the irrigation department and the trees being cut are its property. Since it’s not a protected forest, we cannot charge anything for the felling.”
The trees that will face the axe include full-grown eucalyptus, sheesham and keekar trees grown on the banks of the canal by the forest department along the 805-km length of the canal system spread in Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr districts.
Sources in the department said the permission for cutting the trees was given without any compensatory plan as that would have required permission from the Union environment and forest department. A senior department official said, “There was pressure from the state government to start the repair work of the canal system at the earliest, as the Assembly elections draw near, and the government wants that done by June. That’s why the forest department failed to put a compensation plan before the irrigation department as it would have taken more time as it involved seeking permission from the Union environment ministry.”
Officials say it’s probably for the first time that the department has allowed such a huge felling of trees without having a plan to compensate it.
Narvir Singh Kahlon, member, Wild Life Advisory Board, Punjab, said, “Cutting of forests does not affect only humans, it will also adversely affect the wildlife and bird diversity in the region as the number of trees is huge. The PCCF should have discussed it with the Wildlife Advisory Board before giving the nod.” Parbhat Bhatti, another environmentalist from Nangal, has threatened to move court against the move.
5 lakh trees axed in past 5 years
The data collected from the department suggests that in the past five years, more than five lakh trees have been cut to accommodate development projects, mainly roads, for which the forest department has received the compensatory amount for planting trees. The forest area in Punjab is 3.14% of the total area.