(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
By planting a sapling of a Black Plum at Medak districts on 25th June 2020, the Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrasekhar Rao launched the sixth phase of the Haritha Haram Program. The Chief Minister also inaugurated a 636 acre Urban Forest Park at Narsapur.
The Telangana ku Haritha Haram’ (TKHH) is a flagship program aimed at increasing the state’s green cover to 33% as envisaged in the National Forest Policy, 1988. This initiative aims at achieving the twin objectives through massive community participation by Vana Samrakshna Samithis (VSS) and Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) in Protected Areas and Watershed Development Committees in the Watershed areas.
On usual lines, there is a lot of fanfare annually during the launch of annual forestation program. People from all walks of life, Government agencies, officers, prominent citizens, and public representatives participate in the program. As per claims of the State government, 25 lakhs saplings were planted in Hyderabad city at the cost Rs.800/- per sapling and the cost of Tree guard protection (Another Rs.1500/- per plant). What about their survival data? Barely 20% survival!
What is the reality? Launched on 3rd July 2015, the project was to be completed by 2019. The target was aimed at increasing the forest cover in the state to 33 per cent from the 24 per cent by planting a total of 230 crore saplings across the state as given below:
- Outside Forests areas – 130 Crore (Including 10.00 Crore in HMDA & GHMC areas.
- 100 Crore within Forest areas (20.00 Crore through plantations and 80.00 Crore through rejuvenation).
Some of the facts expose the fraud of forestation on annual basis. The Forest Cover in the State is 20,582.31 sq km which is 18.36 % of the State’s geographical area. As per State records, a total of 182 crore saplings have been planted to date across the state. By the end of 2017, the forest department claimed to have planted around 72 crore saplings in the state across three phases of Haritha Haram. The achievements include: 2015-16 – 15.86 crore Plants; 2016-17 – 31.67 crore; Plants 2017-18 – 24.47 crore Plants = total until 2017 – 72 crore plants in 3 years.
Currently in Telangana, the target of the sixth phase of the “Haritha Haram” program is to plant 30 crore saplings. Out of the 30 crore, 50 lakhs saplings will be planted in Medak district. If so, the figure of 182 crore saplings planted is totally suspect. From 72 crore saplings at the end of 2017 (after 3 years), the increase by 110 crore saplings till date needs explanation and verification. Also, by planting 30 crore saplings, the State is only reaching 212 crore saplings in the 5th year as opposed to reaching the target of 230 crore by end of the 4th year.
My heart bleeds at the annual forestation frauds committed all over the country having lived in forests of Arunachal, Assam, Nagaland and J & K forests during my uniform career, visited BANF in Canadian Rocky Mountains and exposed to the policies and plan implementations of forest harvesting and sustainable forest management and worked as Vice President of Kit ply Industry in Margherita, Assam.
Let me highlight that almost 80% of saplings of the saplings planted in Secunderabad area on the road sides have disappeared. Similarly, planting saplings on the road side of highways at 3 feet apart under the canopy of fully grown trees mercilessly exposes lack of foresters planning. One, saplings are planted close to many of the national highways are earmarked for 4 to 6-lane highway status. So, they will be cut once the expansion of roads is executed. Two, saplings have been planted adjoining each other at 3 feet distance under the canopy of fully vintage grown trees. No wonder, saplings planted since 2015 have not grown even one foot taller. Furthermore, during my visit to nearby villages in the suburbs, one saw the sordid drama of saplings planted adjoining compound walls and under electric lines which will be cut one day or other. Whom to blame for such poor implementation?
Of course, the State has reported extent of recorded forest area (RFA) 26,904 sq km which is 24.00% of its geographical area of which 20,353 sq km is Reserved Forest, 5,939 sq km is Protected Forest and 612 sq km is Unclassified Forests. The reserved, protected and unclassified forests are 75.65%, 22.07% and 2.28% of the recorded forest area in the State respectively.
In reality, as per India State of Forest Report-2019 (IFSR) by the Forest Survey of India, the State has 1,608.24 sq km under Very Dense Forest (VDF), 8,787.13 sq km under Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) and 10,186.94 sq km under Open Forest (OF). Forest Cover in the State has increased by 163.31 sq km as compared to the previous assessment reported in ISFR 2017. According to the IFSR-2019, forest cover in Telangana stands at 20,582 sq km, which is 18.36% of the total geographic area of the state (1, 12,077 sq km).
Let me highlight that as per ISFR-2019, Telangana with 18.36% coverage is at 26th position out of 36 States/UTs. MP has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra. In terms of forest cover as %age of total geographical areas, the top 5 states are Mizoram (85.41%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.62%), Meghalaya (76.33%), Manipur (75.46%) and Nagaland (75.31%).
As per the IFSR-2019 by the Forest Survey of India, compared to Telangana, neighboring Karnataka recorded the highest improvement in forest cover among all states, of 1,025 sq km, followed by Andhra Pradesh at 990 sq km. Other states that performed better are Kerala(823 sq km), erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state (371 sq km), Himachal Pradesh (334 sq km), Assam (222 sq km) and Odisha (274 sq km).
In Telangana, during the period 1st January 2015 to 5th February 2019, a total of 9,420 hectares of forest land was diverted for non-forestry purposes under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (MoEF & CC, 2019).
Viewed in the above data, the Telangana Governments “Haritha Haram” achievements are a bogey. So far, there is minuscule rise in forest cover in the State. Telangana has recorded one of the lowest tree cover outside forest areas in the country. According to the report, trees cover only 4.3 per cent of the State’s geographical area outside the forests.
India in general and Telangana among other states in particular have failed dismally to promote agro-forestry to achieve 34% forest coverage of total geographical area. It woefully exposes the tall claims made in plans of the various state governments and the Central government over the past 73-years.
Let me draw the attention of three nations to include Finland, Norway and Canadian Rocky Mountains which are located close to the Arctic Circle. Geographically, most of Finland is situated at latitude of between 60 and 70 degrees north. A significant area extends north of the Arctic Circle. Many organisms would not survive the winter without the sheltering snow; the roots of plants would freeze and the cold would kill the animals moving at ground level.
Yet, Finland is a “forest giant” covering 23 million hectares or 74.2% of the land area. Forests have been Finland’s most important natural resource; one third of the country’s export earnings are from forests. The forest products industry as a whole is second only to metal products as an export sector. The total volume of stock in Finnish forests amounts to nearly 2 billion cubic meters. Today the annual increment is about 75 million cubic meters, whereas around 60 million cubic meters or less are harvested or die of natural causes.
Finland has been concentrating on sustainable timber production and the health of the forests. Sustainable economic use of the forests paves the way towards, and provides resources for, the safeguarding and enhancement of the ecological and social sustainability of the forests as well. Ecological and social sustainability nowadays is just as important as sustainable timber production.
Next, Norway also has forests covering 37 per cent, or 119,000 km2 of the nation. Of this, almost 23 per cent, or approximately 72,000 km2is regarded as productive forest. The productive forest is distributed between 125,000 forest properties. About 79 per cent of the productive forest area is owned by private individuals. 72.9%
Finally, Canada is currently a world leader in sustainable forest management. HARVEST RATES across Canada are set at levels to ensure long term eco system sustainability. As a result, the country’s forests are able to support species diversity and resilience over vast landscapes with dynamic, ever evolving ecosystems.
Thus, forest development for the sake of forests is sheer waste of land and scarce capital. Forests must be commercial based on high value plantations like the Teak, Red Sandalwood, Herbal plants, Bamboo and so on; not for ornamental purposes. The wood-processing industry must make productive and profitable use of the raw material. Timber logs are either sawn or veneered to make plywood. Pulp wood is processed into pulp and paper. The topmost part of the tree trunk is chipped for energy production or left to decay in the forest where the nutrients are released back into the ground to fertilize the trees.
In India, foresters favor Eucalyptus. Eucalypts are neither good nor bad. None can deny their utility in regions with “high underground” water levels. As per environmental activists, Eucalyptus must not be planted in areas that receive an annual rainfall of less than about 400 mm. If so, large tracts of Telangana are unsuitable of Eucalyptus plantations.
On the negative side, environmental activists highlight depleting groundwater, fostering fires, encouraging erosion, vitiating watersheds, deterring native flora with voracious roots and allelopathy, etc., as some of the other problems. So, they should only be planted after a careful analysis of the ecological and social implications. Surely, Telangana government must impose a ban on “Eucalyptus” forest plantations since its average rainfall varies annually.
On the positive side, eucalyptus oil is used medicinal, industrial and perfumery/flavoring. Medicinal oils were used primarily as a decongestant agent and antiseptic in inhalants, sprays, embrocations, gargles and lozenges. Industrial oils were used in the manufacture of disinfectants, deodorants, liquid soaps, germicides and in the manufacture of synthetic menthol and thymol. It has Antioxidant effect, Cytotoxic effect, Antiparasitic, insecticidal and repellent effects, Antimicrobial effect, effects on oral and dental health, dermatological effects and scalp lotion.
At the same time, hardly there is focus on the commercial value of Bamboo that is capable of providing ecological, economic and livelihood security to the people. India is the world’s second largest cultivator of bamboo after China, with 136 species and 23 genera spread over 13.96 million hectares. Bamboo can be used in 1,500 different ways including as food, a substitute for wood, building and construction material, for handicrafts and paper. According to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, India’s annual bamboo production is estimated at 3.23 million tones. Edible bamboo has a huge demand in East Asian cuisines and medicine. However, despite all this, the country’s share in the global bamboo trade and commerce is only 4 per cent.
In October 2006, the Government of India (GOI) had launched the National Bamboo Mission (NBM). In April 2018, a restructured NBM was approved by the GOI with an investment of Rs 1290 crore in the coming 2 years aimed to support the development of the entire value chain of the bamboo sector. To facilitate the benefit flow to the farmers, bamboo outside forest areas has been excluded from the definition of tree by amending Section 2 (7) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 by the GOI in November 2017.
In sum, sustainable forest management includes inventory system incorporating hundred variables, which relate not only to the volume and composition of wood resources, but also to such matters as soil, vegetation cover and the health of trees. Like in Finland, Norway and Canada, the increment of stock must exceed harvesting volumes and natural drain. Forest regeneration must be planned and effectively implemented.
The forests must be managed a compartment at a time, i.e. felling or management work is directed as a part of the forest with a homogenous tree stand. Forests must be allowed to grow between 60 and 120 years, depending on the tree species. Otherwise, due to population growth like the disappearance of lakes/tanks in and around Hyderabad, even the forests will disappear sooner than later and all the forestation carried out adjoining the road sides will disappear.