Maha adds 96sqkm forest area in 2 years
While Maharashtra has recorded an increase in forest and mangrove cover since 2017, a report released by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Monday showed a decline in the quality of forests.
The biennial Indian State of the Forest Report (ISFR) 2019 by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), found a 96 square kilometre (sq km) increase in territorial forest area in Maharashtra, which adds up to almost 17% of the state’s geographical area. The state also recorded an overall increase of 72% mangrove cover in six years, which is the second-highest increase across all coastal states, after Gujarat.
“Overall increase in forest cover has happened as more forest areas have been notified as ‘reserved forest’ under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Secondly, land has been acquired for compensatory afforestation and demarcated as forests. Also, mangrove forests have been newly notified as reserved forest as well, increasing overall forest cover for Maharashtra,” said Shailesh Tembhurnikar, additional principal chief conservator of forest (conservation), Maharashtra.
However, while open forests increased by 191 sq km, very dense and moderately dense forests in Maharashtra reduced by 15 sq km and 80 sq km respectively. Districts that lost maximum dense forests included Gadchiroli (87 sq km), Chandrapur (32.5 sq km), Nagpur (18 sq km), and Beed (11 sq km). Mumbai suburbs lost 0.14 sq km of forests over two years.
Madhav Gogate, former principal chief conservator of forests, Maharashtra, said the report indicated a reduction in the quality of the state’s forests. “Infrastructure projects, illegal encroachments, increased farming activities as well as settling forest rights claims, all within reserved forests has led to fragmentation of dense and moderate forests,” he said. Tembhurnikar also said some dense forest zones had been handed over to the Community Reserve Management Committee following claims made under individual and community forest rights.
Other senior forest officers said the reduction in dense forests has been noted across Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, and Nagpur under forest department corporation of Maharashtra’s (FDCM) territory. “FDCM has been handed over certain forest areas where they carry out tree felling as per sustainable management principles but it is comparatively intensive felling to ensure natural rejuvenation. This is happened in these three districts where FDCM is active. Hence, this impression of dense forest area reduction is temporal or a transitional phenomena. It cannot be construed as an indicator of poor health or permanent deterioration of forests,” said Pravin Srivastava, principal chief conservator of forest (production and management), state forest department.
Data showed that close to 50 sq km of forestland in the state were diverted between 2015 and 2019 for development and infrastructure. This year, among projects carried out in dense forest zones were road development works in Melghat tiger reserve; laying of optical fibre and cables near Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary and Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary; irrigation projects in Navegaon-Nagzira wildlife zone and coal mining projects in Yavatmal and Nagpur forest zones.
Meanwhile, the state’s mangrove cover increased to 320 sq km in 2019, from 304 sq km in 2017, ISFR 2019 said. “Mangroves have grown in intertidal zones due to excess siltation. There is no evidence of any special efforts made by any official agency,” said B N Kumar director of the NGO NatConnect Foundation.
However, Gogate said the state had “put in tremendous effort” to protect mangrove forests. Raigad recorded the highest mangrove cover increase of 15 sq km over two years, followed by Thane (0.66 sq km) and Mumbai suburbs (0.3 sq km). Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mangrove cell), pointed out that the state mangrove cell’s activities since 2012 and the 2018 court order banning mangrove destruction had helped conserve mangroves.