Editorial Page

Forest cover: Punjab tops from below; Haryana second

January 14, 2018 04:45 PM

Dr.Amandeep Agarwal
Niti Ayog portal shows that India has a 21.23% land under forest cover against recommended 33% recommended in the national forest policy. While Punjab tops the list from below with just 3.52 % forest cover and its immediate neighbour Haryana is satisfied with being first runner up again from below with a forest cover of 3.59 %.

If government calls it development, I call it a matter of shame and serious introspection.

We all must understand and feel worried about the low rate of economic growth, fiscal deficit, huge foreign and national debts, but what about the mounting ecological deficit that the country accumulates year after year. CAMPA funds meant for compensatory afforestation are grossly being misappropriated by the custodians themselves.  Environmental clearance for various projects is given by government of India with certain conditions to ensure that development doesn’t tax the environment, but it has become a practice to violate the conditions laid down and no one is bothered. In a petition before National Green Tribunal Punjab Pollution department in its affidavit stated that though Punjab “Pollution control board was never in loop at the time of planning of the project” it had directed spot inspection of compliance of environmental provisions through a committee. The committee had observed that the work “reached advanced stage in some stretches, the representatives of the companies available at site could not give satisfactory reply regarding compliance of conditions of environmental clearance”. In the affidavit the committee was further quoted having reported “the representatives could not show any progress regarding compensatory tree plantations to be carried out for the project”. The affidavit further says that Executive Engineer Central PWD B&R had submitted partial sketchy compliance report of environmental clearance conditions.  This is just tip of an iceberg because had it not been a regular and accepted practice the forest cover won’t have receded to 3.52 percent. After all how can the forest department which is custodian of green cover be ignorant of this shocking fact? More so the permissions for development projects are still being given without bothering about compliance of conditions for environmental clearance in earlier sanctions. Why is government of India granting permissions after permissions/ environment clearance of projects where none bothers to care for environment. In the name of compliance just buck is passed to contractor.

Forest, the protective life line is turning fragile. The world is looking ahead in this twenty first century towards growth and development with a vision. Indeed, the development is possible, but only when the earth's natural environment and resources are well protected, conserved and thoroughly managed. Ironically, this has not been the case so far, for most of the natural environment has witnessed a heavy toll on account of excessive “development” activities, that have not only degraded our natural resources drastically even, the major renewable resources- forests, groundwater, agricultural soils and marine fisheries among others- have been polluted to the extent which poison the living beings. Unique and irreplaceable species are becoming extinct at rates estimated at up to 30,000 a year- the fastest destruction to have occurred in the last 65 million years. The agricultural soil of every continent is being destroyed more quickly than nature can restore them. The basic resources are under intense pressure from increased displacement of soil particles from land surfaces, has also become a serious problem.

Now the excessive human dwelling, growing industrialization and neglect of forestry is driving animal and bird population off. In fact, this is causing not only death of many species, but resulting into draughts, floods and global warming as well. The decaying twigs and tress are making soil porous and ultimately barren. Forests are also the home and heaven for wild life. Their constant degradation is causing misery to the wild life and our ecosystem. India's woods, once dark and deep, now are a living example to man's savage destruction. The saying that man finds forests but leaves deserts, could not be more true to India. Trees known as mother of rivers act as depositories for water resources, are unable to sustain their own existence. In such a pitiable situation, how can they be expected to sustain others?

Following orders from Hon’ble Supreme court of India, union government had constituted a body CAMPA to manage funds (CAMPA funds) for afforestation to compensate deforestation done to give room for development projects.

Punjab forest department had been apparently throwing all guidelines to winds by utilizing these CAMPA funds to pay hefty fees to senior advocates in its legal battle in the National Green Tribunal and Hon’ble Supreme Court to defend and justify the deforestation and irregularities in the afforestation. Interestingly apart from engaging fees, travel allowance to the officers,  Rs One lac has been paid to the advocates per appearance per case; thereby spending almost 86 lacs so far. Had these 86 lacs been judiciously used in replenishing the green cover and ensuring its survival, we could hope for a better environment.

Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)  had been set up following the Supreme Court’s verdict in a PIL, which had been filed by several civil society groups, had sought to draw the court’s attention to environmental damage caused by industrialisation and demanded compensation for loss of forest land due to non-forest uses. The apex court had then directed the Centre to set up the CAMPA fund along with the governments of 14 states that had seen destruction of forests. The idea was that when forest land is sold to industries, an equivalent area would be purchased elsewhere to plant trees as “compensatory afforestation”. From such moneys, a huge corpus of over Rs 42,000 crore has accumulated into accounts of Ad hoc CAMPA, a temporary body set up in 2006 by the Supreme Court to manage such funds. The corpus is increasing at the rate of about Rs 6,000 crore per year.

Under the prevailing conditions, it would be in the fitness of things to give exemplary punishment to those who are digging the graves of the civilization by indulging in scams to the detriment of our ecology in which hangs the future of the world and for the cause for which people laid down their lives.

Dr Amandeep Aggarwal

Chairman, Action Committee cum legal cell,

Indian Medical Association Punjab

33A, SST Nagar, Sangrur, Punjab

Cell 9872192793

Have something to say? Post your comment

More Editorial Page News