Plantation projects on an overdrive but green cover shows little increase
Massive plantation drives by states over the past decade have not translated into any significant increase in India’s green cover, an analysis of government data shows, raising concerns over the efficacy of money-guzzling schemes.
HT’s findings will also put a question mark over the government’s move to distribute Rs 41,000 crore to the states for plantation and regeneration of forests.
The ministry of environment and forests claims to have carried out plantation on 19.64 million hectare (ha) under various government schemes between 2003 and 2014. But the corresponding increase in forest cover was only 2.4 million ha, which includes private plantations, leaving a hole of 17 million ha. In most states, the green cover growth was less than the claimed plantation area (See graphic). India is looking at plantations to meet its commitment of increasing forest cover by another 25 mn ha, from the current 70.2 mn ha, by 2030 under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a landmark pact aimed at slowing down global warming.
Environmentalists link the loss of forest to extreme weather swings and natural calamities such as droughts in plains and devastating landslides in hills. The government plantation schemes include the national afforestation programme, compensatory afforestation in lieu of diversion of forests for industrial projects, MGNREGS and watershed management schemes.
Most of these plantations are carried out by the states’ forest departments directly or by distributing seedlings to locals. Earlier this year, the Lok Sabha passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, also called the CAMPA Bill, to hand over to the state forest departments more than Rs41,000 cr ore collected against diversion of forest land for industrial use. The bill is pending approval in Rajya Sabha.
The opposition has sought to route the compensatory afforestation fund through the grams ab has.
A study by a group of scientists from the National Remote Sensing Centre in January showed only 0.21 mn ha existing forest was lost between 2003 and 2013, further reducing the contribution of plantations.
Anoop Badhwa, inspector general of forests who heads the National Afforestation and Eco-development Board at the environment ministry, said, “Almost half of the plantation area is notional as it relates to seedling distribution. We assume if 625 plants are distributed, one ha area will be covered. There is always an uncertainty on what happens to seedlings after distribution.”
He admitted that of the 9-10 mn ha “actual plantation”, many trees may not have survived. “If from 9-10 million ha plantation 2 mn forest cover has increased, it is still an achievement. 20%-30% survival rate is not bad given the bioticpressuresourforestsface.But we are sure the survival rate will increase with the advancement in technology and better monitoring.”
But researchers cautioned the government before it puts more money in the forest departments’ hand. “The data shows plantations are not being done with any effectiveness. They have been used as an instrument for other purposes — to take over forest dwellers’ land and for officials to siphon money. This shows the need for caution before transferring even more money to bodies controlled by forest officials,” said Shankar Gopalakrishnan of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a forum of organisations working for tribal rights.