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Maharashtra loss: 2,277 football fields of forest given for development works

A document accessed by HT gives details of 44 orders passed for diversion of forest land this year.

mumbai Updated: Dec 27, 2018 01:18 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
mumbai news,maharashtra forest,Sanjay Gandhi National Park
The forest area of Maharashtra is 50,682sq km.(HT File Photo)

Maharashtra lost more than 11.3sq km of forest land to various development projects between January and December this year. The area is one-tenth the size of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli (103 sq km) or 2,277 football fields, which has an area of 0.53 hectare a field.

A document accessed by HT gives details of 44 orders passed for diversion of forest land this year. These include construction of infrastructure, irrigation projects, roads, national highways, transmission lines, water pipelines and mining projects, among others.

Forest land diverted in Maharashtra in 2018 is the third highest in India after Madhya Pradesh (6,151 hectares) and Odisha (2,538 hectares), according to data submitted by the union environment ministry in Lok Sabha on December 21. The same data revealed that 655.71 hectare of forest area were diverted in 2015, 2047.33 hectares in 2016, and 800.58 hectares in 2017. Between 1980 and 2017, 97,565 hectares were covered through compensatory afforestation, second highest in India.

The forest area of Maharashtra is 50,682sq km, which is 16% of the total geographical area and the total recorded forest area (including buffer zones and eco-sensitive areas) is 61,579 sq km, according to the Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017. ISFR 2017 had recorded a 17sq km drop in forest area from 2015 to 2017.

Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (APCCF), state forest department, said, “For projects apart from linear infrastructure, we are getting equivalent land diverted for compensatory afforestation, which is declared as reserved forest, where fresh plantation is carried. For forest land lost to linear infrastructure projects, plantation is carried out on double the degraded area lost for the project, despite there being no compulsion for compensatory afforestation.”

Environmentalists said the attitude of the state is to perforate more forest areas rather than conserve them. “The forest department refuses to accept these infrastructure projects are only going to pave way for further destruction,” said Stalin D, director, environment group Vanashakti.

Supreme Court advocate and environment lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay said it was imperative to note whether alternative areas were available for forest areas diverted.

Maharashtra recorded 22 leopard deaths due to road accidents inside and outside protected forest areas this year, which is the highest across India, according to data from the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), a Delhi based conservation group.

“As more forest land is diverted, areas are automatically opened up for further expansion. What lies at stake is the biodiversity, and nothing can compensate for the loss of such lives. The state currently lacks more prominent wildlife corridors,” said Suresh Thorat, former APCCF (wildlife), Maharashtra forest department. “An ecosystem assessment exercise , which was decided in 2015, is not being carried out by the forest department.”

First Published: Dec 27, 2018 01:18 IST