State lost more than 2,100 sq km of forest area in past 2 decades
Madhavi Rajadhyaksha TNN
Mumbai: Maharashtra has lost a staggering 2,116 sq km of forest area or an equivalent of three Tadoba forest reserves in the span of two decades, reveals a report tracking climate change in India released recently by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation.
The state has also gained 5,030 sq km of forest cover in the period covered by the report (1987-2011). However, forest cover is not the same as forest area; mapped by satellite imaging, it includes zones such as rubber and teak plantations which do not deliver the ecological benefits that natural forests do.
The Centre’s report warns that forest loss tilts the ecological balance, contributes to climate change and man-made carbon-dioxide emissions and reduces carbon stock.
GREEN ALERT Loss in forest area in Maharashtra (1987-2011) is 2,116 sq km The state has lost an equivalent of three Tadoba forests since ’87 It has gained 5,030 sq km of forest cover between 1987-2011 National policy says one-third of India’s geographical area should be forest. Currently it is about 17% Loss of forests hits water reserves and air quality
Experts Say Green Cover Converted Into Agri Land
has lost a mind-boggling 2,116 sq km of forest area in the last 20 years. D Stalin of voluntary organization Vanashakti said much of the forest loss in the state is owing to sustained conversion of forests into agricultural land such as sugarcane plantations. “Developers have taken over environmental issues. The loss of forests compromises the state’s water security,” he said.
Maharashtra already has the highest number of polluted rivers in the country—28—and such deforestation further affects the
capacity of the groundwater to absorb and store water, Stalin pointed out, adding that denuding natural green reserves also results in rising temperatures or global warming.
Environmentalist Debi Goenka believes the depleting forest area is a cause for worry especially in the context of the increasing population.
“Forests are the most efficient converters of carbon dioxide into oxygen. It is time we start acknowledging that they are not a luxury but a necessity. The loss of forest area only reiterates there is no political will to protect forests or wildlife,” Goenka said, citing how similar apathy was shown in the planning of the Navi Mumbai airport.
The rapid takeover of forest lands for development, be it roads, power plants or airports, comes despite the existence of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, that imposes strict restrictions on dereservation of forests. States are also given funding for regeneration of forests under the National Afforestation Programme.
Stalin said the government must rethink its forest compensatory policy and emphasized the need to regenerate forests and not merely compensate the loss of natural reserves with plantations.
Chief forest conservator NVasudevan said the national policy has underlined the need for one-third of the total geographic area to be forest.
“Forests currently make up about 17% of total area in the country, which we need to take up to 33%. The solution may not necessarily be to declare more land as forest areas but to encourage citizens to plant trees or take measures such as greening of wastelands,” he said.
HOW DIMINISHING FORESTS AFFECT THE ENVIRONMENT
Forests are considered ‘lungs’ of the earth as they absorb carbondioxide and replenish oxygen in the environment. Forest loss aggravates pollution
Denuding of forests leads to a rise in temperatures and global warming
Forest areas act as a check on soil erosion, regulating rainfall and helping to conserve ground water
They are also reserves of raw materials such as wood, lumber and paper, the absence of which has effects on human and animal life
WHY FOREST COVER MAY NOT HELP Forest cover mapped by the Forest Survey of India doesn’t distinguish between the origin of tree crops, whether natural or man-made. Forest cover could thus include rubber or sugarcane plantations which do not provide the oxygen-replenishing benefits of natural tree cover
TIMES VIEW : Constantly diminishing forest area is a ticking time bomb and it’s imperative the government realises this. Denudation of forest cover cannot be blamed on the irresponsibility of a few; it’s rather the work of an organised, well-networked mafia, which only concerted effort and monitoring by government agencies can thwart. The sooner they get their act together, the better it will be for Maharashtra.
Source::: The Times of India, 26-12-2013, p.08, http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIM/2013/12/26&PageLabel=8&EntityId=Ar00306&DataChunk=Ar00800&ViewMode=HTML