Expressing serious reservations over a "unilateral fiat" from the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), the Haryana government had told the ministry that it was not willing to re-do the geo-reference mapping of the forest areas in the state on the basis of a new set of parameters unless they are approved by the Supreme Court and mandated for the entire country.
The MoEF, in an April 15 order, had asked the state government that all compact patches of minimum 1-hectare area having crown density of more than 10% as per the successive State of Forests Reports published by the Forest Survey of India after December 12, 1996, may be treated as forest by dictionary meaning unless it is proved with credible evidence that vegetation available in such patch is other then forestry species of natural origin.
The MoEF through this order also constituted a joint committee of Haryana and central government officials to prepare geo referenced maps of the areas located in Faridabad district, those recorded as forest in government record, area covered under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) and areas, which may be defined as forest as per dictionary meaning, irrespective of the ownership.
Additional chief secretary (ACS), forests, YS Malik in a communication to the MoEF secretary, Dr V Rajagopalan, pointed out that identification of the forest cover, which would be inclusive of trees planted by people in their own land is an altogether new parameter, which cannot and should not be applied anywhere in the country particularly in Haryana.
"Further going by the parameter specified by the MoEF - minimum 1-hectare area having a crown density of more than 10% - one is sure that almost one-third of New Delhi would have to be treated as forest," Malik wrote.
Explaining the infeasibility of identification of forest land areas by following the MoEF parameter, the ACS (forests) wrote that as the geo referenced district forest maps are envisaged to be prepared on the basis of segregation of trees planted by individuals/communities and those having grown as species of natural origin - by excluding the former and including the latter, this exercise would require physical verification of every inch of the area.
"No technology has been evolved till date where satellite imagery could distinguish between the planted trees and naturally grown species of trees. If undertaken manually, it would give rise to huge scope for arbitrariness and rent seeking practices, which must be avoided at all costs," the communication said.
The ACS (forests) has also pointed out that since the parameter specified by the MoEF has not been approved by the Supreme Court, it is understood that ministry would not have applied this parameter as the guiding principle for identification of forests in respect of all the states.
"Haryana would comply with any such guidelines, which are legally tenable and made applicable for the entire country. Also, such an approach would require modification of the Supreme Court orders in a number of cases where reports of expert committees and parameters adopted by them have been accepted by the apex court.
If the MoEF thinks that the criteria used for mapping the forest cover can be unmistakably applied for mapping the forest land in terms of SC orders of December 12, 1996, then the MoEF should first get these parameters approved from the apex court," said Haryana's communication.