13.4L trees cut for development in Maharashtra since 2015: Green ministry
The state and Central governments approved the felling of 13,42,703 trees for various development projects across forest areas over, from 2015 to 2019. Data from the state showed the same amount of trees had been lost from Maharashtra forests between 2005 and 2013 for development projects.
In its 2017 report, the forest survey of India found Maharashtra had the maximum tree cover area in India (9,831 square km), accounting for 3.19% of the total geographical area of the state.
According to data tabled by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, of the 94,98,516 trees lost in India over four years, Maharashtra recorded the second-highest after Telangana (15,26,663).
Minister of state (environment) Babul Supriyo said more trees were planted than the number approved for removal under the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980.
“Plantation of more than 10,32,00,000 trees have been stipulated under compensatory afforestation [for the loss of 9 million trees],” said Supriyo.
From 2015 to 2019 (March), Maharashtra diverted 5,022 ha of forests for development projects, which is the third-highest figure in India after Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.
“These were all projects of public importance. Mostly linear infrastructure (including road widening, railways, transmission lines), and important irrigation projects,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mantralaya).
Tiwari also said Maharahstra’s program to plant 50 crore saplings by 2021 had increased tree cover “diminishing any loss recorded in previous years”.
However, of the 33 crore saplings across 36 districts this year, the survival rate was 77%. Last year, 13 crore plantations recorded a survival rate of 75%.
Siddhanta Das, director general of forest and special secretary, MoEFCC, said Maharashtra and Telengana may have reported greater loss of tree cover due to more development projects in the area. There are two types of compensation taken up when trees are felled – tree for tree and land for land.
“Suppose 10 hectares (ha) of land are diverted with loss of trees, then double or three times (depending on the plantation scheme) trees are planted across 10 ha of non-forest land,” said Das, adding that the ministry also carries out measures such as water or soil conservation to achieve “a balance between development and conservation”.
Supreme Court advocate and environment lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay said Telangana and Maharashtra were witnessing huge projects in forest areas and despite violations like trees being felled close to tiger reserves, no preventive actions were being taken.
“We should add 30% to the official data to understand the true picture. Also, we must consider the loss of trees across all ecosystems including urban, rural, wastelands, degraded areas outside forest areas, data for which are not being collated across India,” he said.