HYDERABAD: The state of the forest 2017 report released in February by the Forest Survey of India claims a one per cent increase in cover. However, in the grand scheme of things, one per cent is not significant, say environmentalists as we observe World Forest Day today (March 21).
Prof Purushotham Reddy, an environmentalist says, “Not only can we not vouch for which type of species constitutes this one per cent but the report itself is disputable as it has not been confirmed by any third party study. It is just the government patting itself on the back while our forests continue to take a beating.”
He says most of our forest eco-systems are affected. There is widespread mining in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh for which roads are laid cutting through forests for access to these projects.
Irrigation projects such as Kaleswaram in TS have encroached on prime forest areas. The cement factory near Nagarjunasagar has drawn a lot of flak as the smoke and particulate matter from the factory settles on plants nearby, affecting their growth and regenerative abilities.
Temple tourism too decimates green cover. “Tirupati is a classic example of how we forgot our forests just for devotees to have easier access,” Prof Reddy points out. “Similar is the case of Rishikesh, Haridwar, Srisailam and others where massive deforestation occurs to make things easier for devotees such as paved roads, constructing structures etc.”
The country’s green cover is about 22 per cent which is a long way from the goal set by the National Forest Policy that states that 33 per cent of India’s geographical area should be under forest.
Unless there is a curbing, and then a reversal, of deforestation, the green cover figures will not increase, say forest officials. While plantation drives have been undertaken across the country, preservation of existing ‘mini-ecosystems’ is not done and without this, many species unique to the country are being lost.
Rajeev Mathew, an environmentalist, says “We are definitely losing species by selective felling. The population of our tree species is getting skewed with plantation drives focusing on certain species that are detrimental to other species. Most plantations promote a mono culture which is not helpful for birds or animals. It is not a forest area and not a residential green area where biodiversity can occur. Strict measures should be undertaken to ensure that deforestation does not occur in our existing forests areas.”
We have begun to see a decline in the teak species, and we should not wait to see the same decline in other integral species such as the mango varieties or mahua, Mr Mathew added.
State to soon get Green parks
The focus is on Urban Forests on World Forest Day this year. The benefits of having green spaces in a crowded city are immense, yet this space keeps shrinking with fewer parks, gardens and open spaces, thus reducing the green filters that could help reduce pollution.
Dr Subba Rao, an environmentalist says, “Open spaces are now covered in concrete. Planted areas are buffer zones and help to reduce the spread of gaseous pollutants, but dust and other pollutants settle on the leaves cutting down their effectiveness as a filter.”
The forest department and GHMC plan to build urban forest parks to ensure that there are some green areas in the city. These urban forest parks are also being developed in Adilabad, Khammam, Nizamabad, Bhupalpally, Warangal and many other parts of the state. It will not only be a walking area for residents but we can also ensure that medicinal plants and fruit bearing trees are planted that will benefit in the long run, says a senior forest official.
‘Numberless’ forest lands easy to encroach: Officials
The state’s forest department is at its wit’s end to account for the disputed forest cover that is missing in the records of the revenue department.
P.K. Jha (PCCF) says, “The issue is that the forest cover in our records does not have an existing survey number in the revenue department, which has led to a lack of clarity. And it makes it more susceptible to encroachment as the same happens even on notified land.”
State forest officials have met with the chief secretary and the district collectors to discuss how to deal with these lands that are ‘numberless’.
Encroachment of forest lands continues to occur in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, land is encroached by villagers and farmers who extend the boundaries of their agricultural land. In urban areas, increasing construction encroaches on green areas.
Shrinking lung spaces in cities, less wildlife cover and loss of tree species such as teak are a reality in the state. Shilpa Reddy, an environmentalist, says, “Teak is no longer among the top five species of the state. We need to increase awareness not just in pockets of the city but across the state. It is not enough to ensure that we do not fell trees in urban areas; cattle owners should also stop taking their animals out for grazing into forest areas. Fodder areas for cattle should be planned.”
Nature lovers have began to raise awareness about ‘eco-sensitive’ zones which is where most encroachment happens. “The 10 km zone where the forest ends and the residential area begins is where most encroachment occurs. It might seem like just a little but on a national scale, think of all the land that we are eating up. Boundaries should be drawn, but not by concrete or other structures which are eating up the green space. It should arise naturally in the minds of the residents,” says Purushotham Reddy.
Ecologists and conservationists have also began to demand that the government adopt REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests) which was formulated during the United Nations Convention for Climate Change.
“We need to accept that the world is deteriorating at a fast pace. The air and water is no longer clean and the increased population and urbanisation is causing changes to the climate, which is harmful to plant life just as much as it is harmful to us. Unless we target the problem directly, we cannot protect our existing green cover from climate changes that it will not be able to adapt to,” says Srinivas Rao, a forest official.