Odisha forest dept planted most trees along roads, not in degraded forests: CAG
Bhubaneswar : Odisha forest department’s tree plantation activities did not lead to an improvement of degraded forest area or forest cover to its full potential due to the lack of a database of degraded forest and non-forest land, according to the department’s performance audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
“(The) maximum number of trees were planted along roads while the degraded patches inside the forest area which was inaccessible, were not taken for plantation activity. Due to a lack of coordination with district administration, information on degraded forest land and non-forest land was not available with the department. The planning procedure was limited to only instant data provided by field staff in a piece-meal manner. Annual targets on plantations were not compiled at the range and division level. The targets were set by the PCCF and communicated to respective divisions. This indicated a lack of coordinated planning by the ranges, divisions and forest headquarters,” the CAG report said.
The auditors concluded that the forest department fell short of its targets ranging between 12% and 50% between 2013-14 and 2017-18 under various types of plantation while the shortfall in achieving the targets in centrally sponsored schemes such as plantation programmes carried out under MGNRGES ranging from 23% to 68%.
According to the Forest Survey of India report, Odisha’s forest cover stands at 52,155.95sqkm, 33.5% of the state’s total geographical area. According to this report, Odisha’s forest area rose by 537.44sqkm between 2019 and 2020.
The audit report also listed several reasons for the department failing to meet its target. Firstly, it pointed out that range officers did not carry out inspections though each plantation is supposed to be visited by the range officer three times a year for three consecutive years to check on the condition of the plantation. “The year-wise growth and survival percentages could not be confirmed, which is the sole factor for assessing the success of the plantations. This indicated deficiency in monitoring and evaluation of plantations,” the audit report said.
Secondly, though forest plantation programmes are primarily meant to cover the area with trees, without significantly affecting the originality of the vegetation in the landscape, the department preferred teak, acacia and eucalyptus trees to sal trees, the principal species of Odisha. This not just significantly reduced biodiversity but also brought down the average survival of plantations to 37%. The choice of species and the pre-planting analysis of required parameters of soil, rainfall, temperature, and drainage system was improper, the audit said.
Thirdly, the audit suggested that one reason for the department missing its targets by a wide margin could be due to unrealistic targets fixed without the requisite data.
Fourthly, the audit report also contended that there was no concurrent evaluation of plantation schemes and undue delay in third-party evaluation.