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Bihar may miss 5-cr plantation target

The Covid-19 pandemic and floods are likely to affect Bihar’s afforestation drive with the state having set an ambitious target to plant 5 crore saplings this year
By Ruchir Kumar, Patna
PUBLISHED ON JUL 20, 2021 09:46 PM IST

The Covid-19 pandemic and floods are likely to affect Bihar’s afforestation drive with the state having set an ambitious target to plant 5 crore saplings this year.

The pre-monsoon plantation mobilisation work has been hit after seven forest officials, including a district forest officer (DFO) and two range officers, died of coronavirus disease, while several other officials were infected by the virus, said Dipak Kumar Singh, Bihar’s principal secretary, department of environment, forest and climate change.

Most deaths in the department occurred between April and June, the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in the state.

The three months accounted for 7,869 of the total 9,630 Covid-19 deaths in Bihar. There was a single-day increase of 3,971 deaths on June 8 when the state government completed a review of fatalities at private and government hospitals, under home isolation and those succumbing to post-Covid complications.

The peak of the second pandemic, leading to lockdown that began in May, forced the department to put on hold several outreach initiatives and IEC (information, education and counselling) activities, including “Kisan chaupal” (farmers’ open-air meeting) to sensitise them about agro-forestry and other plantation programmes.

When the Covid-19 situation began to ease this month, the floods in north Bihar did not help the cause of the forest department either.

Flooding has affected the state since late June after heavy rainfall in river catchments in neighbouring Nepal.

As of July 12, the National Emergency Response Centre reported over 1 million people having been affected by floods in 10 of Bihar’s 38 districts. Rivers, including the Bagmati, Kosi, Gandak and Burhi Gandak, were above the danger mark at 14 locations as of July 14.

“In some flood-hit districts of north Bihar, we have to wait for floodwaters to recede before we can begin our plantation,” said Singh.

The department still hopes to catch up by intensifying the drive in areas not affected by floods between July and September, considered to be the best season when major plantation work for the year is done, and then tapping the February-March spring season for Poplar plantation in north Bihar.

“Despite the setback to the department’s plantation initiative due to Covid-19 and floods, our activities through our stakeholders are underway. We involve Jeevika didis (women self-help group), NGOs, PSUs, central paramilitary force, railways and other government departments in our plantation activities. We are distributing plants and doing plantations through them and hope to catch up on our deficit,” said Singh.

“As on this day, we have done 1.53 crore plantations since June 5 and hope to intensify the drive further in the next two months,” he said.

Buoyed by the achievement last year, the state has set an ambitious annual target to plant 5 crore saplings till May next year in its endeavour to increase its green cover. Last year, the state achieved 3.97 crore plantations, surpassing its target of 2.51 crore.

According to the India State of Forest Report, 2019, Bihar has 7.76% forest cover, which includes land having trees in more than one hectare area with tree canopy density of 10%. It increased by a nominal 0.10% in 2019 as compared to 2017.

Bihar, with a geographical area of 94,163 sq km, is estimated to have 2.13% (2,003 sq km) tree cover, which is tree patches of less than 1 hectare occurring outside the forest area, and also includes scattered trees.

However, quoting data from the Forest Survey of India, another officer associated with the Hariyali Mission, said: “We have 14.5% green cover (total forest cover and trees outside forest area) as per an assessment of 2019. We hope to increase it to 17% in two years.”

Red flags in green way

Pandemic and lockdown

Pre-monsoon plantation work hit after seven forest officials, including a district forest officer and two range officers, died of coronavirus disease. Several other officials were infected by virus. Lockdown also prevented farmers’ meetings to sensitise them about agro-forestry.

Flooding in 10 districts

As of July 12, National Emergency Response Centre reported over 1 million people having been affected by floods in 10 of Bihar’s 38 districts. Rivers, including the Bagmati, Kosi, Gandak and Burhi Gandak, were above the danger mark at 14 locations as of July 14.

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