Red alert over green areas: Forest cover in 20 of 35 districts in Maharashtra shrinks

But Mumbai Suburban records 16 sq km rise, says India State of Forest Report 2017

mumbai Updated: Feb 23, 2018 10:26 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,forest,forest cover
Pune, which lost 32 square kilometre (sq km) of forest, reported the largest loss, followed by Jalgaon district at 21 sq km. Sindhudurg reported the highest growth in forests, with a gain of 34 sq km, followed by Kolhapur at 31 sq km gain.(HT)

Suburban was among the 15 districts in the state that recorded a rise in forest cover between 2015 and 2017, even as 20 of the state’s 35 districts recorded a decline in forest area , revealed district-wise data of the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017.

Pune, which lost 32 square kilometre (sq km) of forest, reported the largest loss, followed by Jalgaon district at 21 sq km, Nashik (16 sq km), Ahmednagar (14 sq km), Gadchiroli (13 sq km) and Chandrapur (12 sq km).

Sindhudurg reported the highest growth in forests, with a gain of 34 sq km, followed by Kolhapur at 31 sqkm gain, Thane 25 sq km, and Raigad 24 sq km. Mumbai Suburban district recorded a 16 sq km increase, which was mostly due to an increase in mangrove cover, said state forest officials. Other areas along the Konkan coast, and some districts in central Maharashtra and Vidarbha recorded an increase. Only Mumbai city district neither recorded an increase nor decline.

While the report was released by the Forest Survey of India and the Union environment ministry on February 12, the district-wise data for all states was released earlier this week.

Forest officials said they were in the process of analysing the district-wise data. “We have directed departments from every district to submit the number of proposals for forest conservation, area diverted for developmental purposes, area encroached upon and area allotted for slum rehabilitation authority (SRA),” said Shailesh Tembhurnikar, additional principal chief conservator of forest (conservation). “Overall, Maharashtra has still witnessed an increase in green cover as the recorded forest area, especially outside protected forests and tree cover, has risen much more than other states.”

Tembhurnikar added that basic interpretation of the data shows development and economic activities close to urban areas had possibly resulted in the drop in cover. “We are witnessing this phenomenon in and around Pune district with construction of infrastructure projects, mainly national highways. However, the problem of illegal encroachments is being faced in interior parts such as Jalgaon, Nandurbar, Ahmadnagar etc. for mostly agricultural purposes. Forest land has also been allotted in various areas for irrigation projects,” said Temburnikar.

HT had reported on February 13 that the state recorded a net decrease of 17 sq km in forest cover. While there was a 225 sq km decrease in forest areas within Recorded Forest Areas (RFAs) - reserved and protected forests -, a 208 sq km increase was recorded outside these RFAs, the ISFR 2017 found. The report had also identified a 37% increase in mangrove cover, the highest recorded across India over the two-year period.

Tembhurnikar pointed out that even under pressure from real-estate development, Mumbai suburban managed to conserve and increase its forest cover. “Regular plantation drives, favourable weather, soil conditions, and the presence of large-scale private forests, led to significant rise in Sindhudurg’s forest cover,” he said. “Other areas that showed an increase were due to the department’s plantation drives since 2015.”

Environmental watchdogs, however, dismissed the claims from the report regarding Sindhudurg. “There is actually a decline in forest cover at Sindhudurg as hundreds of acres have been allocated for rubber plantations, which are also being counted as forests. Once a base level survey is conducted, the real picture will be visible,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti.

First Published: Feb 23, 2018 10:26 IST