Uttarakhand government pins hope on Centre to fell pine trees in high altitude zone
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttarakhand has taken up a similar proposal that the previous Congress regime had with the Centre, seeking permission to fell pine trees in the upper reaches of the state.
On Friday, chief minister TS Rawat during a meeting with Union forest minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, requested him for permission to fell trees above the altitude of 1,000m.
The issue was raised due to the sensitivity of the upper reaches where sprawling pine tree forests pose threat to the forest cover during the summer as pine needles cause forest fires and also retard the undergrowth, diminishing food for herbivores, leading to human-animal conflicts.
In 2015, a similar proposal was sent to the Centre by the then Congress government for its approval to fell pine trees above the altitude of 1000 m, the proposal, however, was not approved by the Centre.
Dinesh Agarwal, former state forest minister in the Congress government, said the present BJP government “only talks and does nothing”.
“We sent a proposal on the same lines earlier as our government was concerned about the (human-animal) conflicts and forest fires due to pine trees,” he told Hindustan Times.
“All the present government needs is to get approval of the project we had submitted.”
For felling trees in an area of more than a km, permission is needed from the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
A recent Forest Survey of India report states that Uttarakhand has a recorded forest cover 71%. But, the area has contracted from 268 sqkm between 2013 and 2015, leaving only 45.32% forest cover of the total geographical area of the state.
More than 1,300 hectare of has been gutted in forest fires between February and June this year, incurring a revenue loss of more than ₹18 lakh.
But, actual damage was caused last year when more than 4,400 hectare was gutted in forest fires incurring a revenue loss of ₹46 lakh.
The state forest department does not have a strategy to tackle the natural calamity. The crisis management plan prepared by the department to combat forest fires, does not have a long-term methodology.
The methodologies are limited to pre-fire season preparations, crew stations for disseminating fire alerts and engaging daily wage workers to combat forest fire.
This apart, the state government has no sustainable plans to clear combustible pine needles or resin from the reserve forest, a senior forest department official, who did not want to be named, said.
“Forest officials have been examining options for recycling (pine) needles but it has remained an issue of discussion for years now,” the official said.
RK Mahajan, head of forest force and principal chief conservator of forest admitted that there was a problem, saying: “Van panchayats are asked to clear pine needles but it’s a tedious job.”
“There are many factors like permissions, high transportation cost among others due to which recycling can’t be done. We, however, are working on some ways to mitigate the problem and utilize the pine needles.”