If the Punjab government takes up the matter of taking the land belonging to the Rajasthan canal on lease, which could be in thousands of acres, it could prove helpful to enhance the green cover in Punjab. Environment lovers want the government to explore the possibility.
The Rajasthan feeder takes its origin from Harike headworks in Ferozepur district and runs about 167 km through Ferozepur, Faridkot and Muktsar districts, but at most places the canal has scanty or no plantation.
Most of the stretch wears a deserted look with a few old trees. Even from Faridkot to Lohgarh headworks at the end of the canal in Punjab, trees at places can be seen cut and dried up on its right bank.
"The canal offers a good scope to enhance the green cover in Punjab because lakhs of trees can be planted along its entire stretch and the spare land on its left where the area belonging to the canal extends for hundreds of feet. The land which actually belongs to the Rajasthan government as it had acquired it from farmers, is allegedly illegally cultivated by farmers who own the adjoining fields," a source claimed.
The Punjab government had started the mission Green Punjab in July 2012 with a view to increasing the forest cover from existing 7% to 15% in eight years by planting 40 crore saplings in the state. But the state has reportedly 85% land in private holdings leaving little free space to make new plantation. Sources claim that Punjab has only 5% forest cover.
Even the state government seems to have done little where the saplings can be planted. "The land is a problem in Punjab as nearly 85% of it belongs to individuals. So we are trying our best to increase the green cover by offering free-of-cost eucalyptus saplings to promote agro-forestry," said senior officials of the forest department.
"If the government is sincere in enhancing the green cover in the state, it should leave no spare land without any plantation. The areas around all roads, water distributaries and canals must be planted. The Rajasthan canal also offers scope which must be explored," said Gurmeet Singh, a resident of Faridkot district.
Sanjay Bansal, divisional forest officer, Faridkot division, at Muktsar, said he was not competent to comment on the matter. "If land is to be taken on lease from the other state, it has to be considered at a high level. It also has to be seen whether the other party agrees to offer the land on lease or not," he said.
As the canal enters Rajasthan in Hanuman district, a thick plantation can be seen along the canal.