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Double Whammy For Himachal’s Forests

Land encroachment coupled with diversion of forest for non-forestry purposes hits hard

Y.S. Rana

The writer is a Hamirpur based Himachali settled in Chandigarh

Forests are the storehouse of biodiversity and these are important ingredient for the survival of the humanity. Despite the fact, a number of proposals for non-forestry purposes have been accorded approval across the country. But in the recent past, urbanization especially of forest-rich states has increased diversion of forest to non-forestry purposes. In just 30 years India has lost large forest area to 23,716 industrial projects. Latest figures, released by the Environment Ministry, Government of India, New Delhi show that thousand of hectares of forest diverted for non-forestry purposes across the country.  Himachal Pradesh has 14,696 square kilometer which is 26.37% of forest cover of total geographical area. Of this, the state has 324 square kilometers of very dense forest; 6381 sq. km moderate dense forest and 5091 sq. km open forest area.

On one hand, the state has failed in demarcating 54% of its forest area in the past 28 years, the CAG has reported. Even despite high court strictures there are over 15,000 cases of forest land encroachment, added the report. It is stated that forest land is plundered on one pretext or other and around 9545 hectares of forest land is encroached upon. And on the other hand, during the past three years (2014-17), 60 proposals were accorded approvals under the FC Act 1980 for non-forestry purposes which accounted for 745.50 hectares of forest.

In case of Haryana which is primarily an agricultural state, almost 80% of its land is being used for cultivation. The state has 44,212 sq km geographical area which is 1.3% of India’s geographical area. It has only 3.58% of land under notified forests. Haryana has only 1,584 square kilometers of total forest and had diverted 79.44 sq. km (7961 hectares) despite the fact that the state had reported overall decline in its forest cover in 2015 as compared to 2013. Haryana does not have much area under forest cover. But it still diverts more forest land than any other state for non-forestry purposes, such as construction, infrastructure and industrial projects. Over 7961 hectares of forest land has been diverted to non-forestry purposes for 796 proposal accorded approval under FC Act-1980 during the past three years.

Punjab has also presented a grim picture. In the state over 912 hectares of forest diverted to non-forestry purposes for 566 approved proposals during the past three years. Punjab has diverted about half of its forest land since 1980. Haryana along with Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra are top five states which together diverted more than 50% of the total diversion of forest area (56,069.37 hectares or 560.69 sq km) in the country for non-forestry works during 2014-15 and 2016-17 period. Though the entire country had done afforestation on 93,400 hectares (934 sq km) of land during the period, the new plantation will take years before they can be said to have replaced the older diverted forest cover.

Proposals Approved Under FC Act, 1980 (2014-2017)

State                             No. Of Proposals        Total Forest Land                    

                                        Approved                 Diverted (in hectares)

Himachal Pradesh              60                           745.50

Haryana                            796                           7961.17

Punjab                               566                           912.40

Chandigarh                          3                            40.25

Declining Forest Cover

According to the India State of Forest Report 2015, forestry activities in Haryana are dispersed over rugged Shivalik hills in north, Aravalli hills in south, sand dunes in west and wastelands, saline-alkaline lands and waterlogged sites in the central part of the state. The figures show that four out of top five forest diverting states had reported decline in their respective overall forest covers in 2015 as compared to 2013. Only Odisha had shown minor increase (of 7 sq km or 700 hectares) in its forest cover in 2015 as compared to 2013. During 2014-17 periods, Telangana diverted 7,149 hectares of forest land followed by Madhya Pradesh (6,420 hectares), Odisha (5,859 hectares) and Maharashtra (5,285 hectares). With diverting 7,944 hectares, Haryana is at the top in the list.

Mitigative Measures

Sufficient care is taken to make least possible damage to forest, wildlife and forest-ecosystem while forest clearances are given for use of forest land for non forestry purposes as per provision of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. ‘Mitigative measures in the form of general, standard and specific conditions are mandated with every clearance granted. General conditions inter-alia including raising the Compensatory Afforestation (CA), imposition Net Present Value (NPV) to reduce the adverse impact of the diversion of forest land, Demarcation of boundary of the diverted forest land, minimum tree felling, arrangement of alternate fuels, etc. are imposed,” says the Ministry.

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