Green & Clean: Yearly ‘hype and hoopla!’

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Come monsoon and rains, the central and state governments go on a overdrive in the name of “green and clean” to plant saplings of all types by thousands of crores.

If one adds all the saplings of all types planted annually since 1951, that is, from the First Five Year Plan, there may no place left vacant without trees in the country. Area of plantations in hectares from 1951-1999 includes: 8330,000 hectares. Another 4000,000 hectares have been added to the above figures.

Take a quick look at the media report that hailed the launch of the ‘Haritha Haram project” in Telangana – total of 46 crores saplings to be planted in the State with 25 lakhs Hyderabad alone this season. It includes planting trees astride all the major highways to include: Hyderabad and Vijayawada; Hyderabad – Mumbai; and Bangalore – Nagpur highways.

It is high time that an RTI query be raised to find out the total number of trees planted in the State of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh since 1956 and how much of public money has been squandered by the Forest Department.

Similarly, questions must be raised against all state governments and the central government on the same issue.

Who is to be held responsible and accountable for the most heinous fraud committed on the poor tax payers – political leadership or bureaucracy or technocrats?

“Vanamahostav’s or Haritha Haram” photo-op shows are not free of cost. Saplings cost money. They cost the Forest Departments for maintaining and managing nurseries.  And, the digging of pits costs money.  Also, the “security fencing” to prevent animals from destroying the plants costs a fortune.

What is most idiotic is that the saplings are selected with least consideration for their value.  In dry places where the water table is already very low, they go around planting trees (survivability as the sole criteria) which are water guzzlers and toxic which damage the eco system.

And, saplings are planted everywhere in the cities mindlessly to include: in the midst of footpaths; close to compound walls; on the edges of roads knowing very well that the roads will be widened; under the canopy of big trees; even over the rock sheets below the top soils etc.

For example, saplings were planted on the 3-4 wide footpaths next to the compound wall of Secunderabad Club two years ago and security wire fence erected around them.  Today, there is no trace of either the sapling or the security fence.

The latest is digging of pits on the edge of the tarmac with 2-3 feet gap to the compound wall of Rajaji International Institute of Public Administration in Secunderabad on Rajiv Gandhi Rahadari.

Are the concerned authorities and their political masters fooling people or committing the most heinous fraud of squandering their tax payer’s money?

Where are the environmental activists? Why are they not active to point out the follies of the concerned authorities and advising them to do the right things?

The data of least forest areas in various districts and mandals should be available with the Forest Departments.  If the State government authorities are keen to improve the state of social forestry and greenery, they should target such areas instead of wasting their efforts in cities and overcrowded towns.

Let me cite some irrefutable facts of where India stands today as per official reports: “Behind net gain, a loss of 2,511 sq km of very dense and mid dense forests that have been completely wiped out and become non-forest areas since 2013” says the report of Forest Survey of India.

Let me provide a glimpse into expert’s views. While an area of at least 1 hectare (0.01 sq km) with a canopy density of 10% is considered forest, prime forests are classified as very dense and mid-dense with canopy densities of at least 70% and 40% respectively.

Trees do not grow into category of dense forest overnight or in a few years. Each ring develops over a period of one year. A commercially exploitable tree takes between over 20-30 years to grow and to be categorized under dense forest areas.

The Forest Survey of India’s biennial report had showcased how India has added 3,775 sq km to its green cover since 2013. These new forests are mostly plantations or areas that were already forests, but had not been recorded until now.

Even a layman knows that it is impossible for a non-forest area to become a dense forest in two years.

Ipso facto, the report recorded a loss of 2,511 sq km of very dense and mid-dense forests that have been completely wiped out, and become non-forest areas since 2013.

Loss is due to the ‘greed’ of the urbanites sitting in ‘wood paneled” houses and offices. And, they have no right to lay claims to “green and clean” champion’s status.

Timber mafia in connivance with forestry officials, politicians, businesses and citizenry is responsible for deforestation of protected very dense forests in Himalayas to include Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana etc.,  have co-opted or intimidated.

The net loss of forests have taken place in the states of J&K, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Manipur, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Uttar Pradesh added 572 sq km of very dense forest — a jump of 35% since 2013. Tamil Nadu reported a net gain of 100 sq km of very dense forest.

Everyone is aware that forests are a significant rural industry and a major environmental resource. India is one of the ten most forest-rich countries of the world. India’s forest cover grew at 0.22% annually over 1990-2000, and has grown at the rate of 0.46% per year over 2000-2010, after decades where forest degradation was a matter of serious concern.

As of 2010, the FAO estimates India’s forest cover to be about 68 million hectares, or 22% of the country’s area. The 2013 Forest Survey of India states its forest cover increased to 69.8 million hectares by 2012, per satellite measurements; this represents an increase of 5,871 square kilometers of forest cover in 2 years. However, the gains were primarily in northern, central and southern Indian states, while northeastern states witnessed a net loss in forest cover over 2010 to 2012.

Forests are a source of wealth creation in countries like Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the USA (mostly in cold arctic zones).  For example, value of exports of forest-related products constitute between 10 to 20 per cent in some of the countries. Even the share of forestry of the gross domestic products is comparatively higher than India’s which is located in favorable monsoon fed region.

And, all such countries implement scientific sustainable forest development practices. Timber mafias and collusion with forest officials and political leaders is unthinkable.

It is high time for the “Aim Admi” to wake up and make all associated with the forests responsible and accountable for the massive degradation of forests under their very noses and the fraud committed in the name of “Vanamahostav’s or Harith Haram”.

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