On the 67th Punjab Van Mahotsav, forest minister Bhagat Chuni Lal said the state registered an increase of eight square km forest cover, as per the forest survey of India. This is 6.87 per cent area under forest. With the state aiming to bring 15 per cent under forest by 2020, the task ahead will be tough.
Felling of a large number of trees in the past few years haven’t helped matters at all. The increase in forest cover is mainly due to enhanced plantation activities by the state forest department and a spurt in agro-forestry practices in the state.
“A large number of trees were cut during the past six to seven years for development projects, including construction of various state and national highways, which resulted in almost no increase in forest cover despite massive tree plantation drive in Punjab,” said a senior forest officer requesting anonymity.
Under the “Greening Punjab Mission”, 40 crore saplings were to be planted on various places across the state. Since 2007 till date, the forest department has supplied over 10 crore saplings for plantation, which could have resulted in over 500 square km increase in forest cover, said experts. However, Punjab has been felling trees to such extent that much of the gains were being nullified.
A senior officer in forest department said survival rate of saplings being planted by the state is not even 25 to 30 per cent. This means over 70 per cent of the 10 crore saplings distributed among NGOs and government agencies have perished.
Delhi-based environmentalist Gopal Krishana said that for such afforestation methods to succeed, it has to be monitored and maintained.
Most of the forest cover in Punjab falls under sub-mountainous zone in the districts of Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, S.B.S. Nagar and Ropar. This constitutes about 77% of the total forest area in the state.
The forest minister, however, went on to say that the state will set up a forest research institute in Ludhiana at a cost of Rs 24 crore, which will work in collaboration with Forest Research Institute Dehradun to develop new varieties of saplings.