Despite possessing only six per cent forest cover,five times less than the national goal of 33 per cent,Punjab has not stepped up efforts to address the issue. An RTI filed by The Indian Express pertaining to the number of trees that have been cut for the under-construction six- lane National Highway-I (NH-I) from Panipat to Jalandhar,revealed that around 2 lakh trees were cut for the highway without much compensatory planting efforts.
The RTI application filed to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) revealed that 2,17,429 trees have been axed for the six- lane project on the 291 km long stretch from Panipat to Jalandhar,of which over 160 kms fall in Punjab and the rest in Haryana. Around 1.5 lakh trees were cut in Punjab for the highway but the states forest department has till date not even replanted one-fourth of the axed trees despite having to compulsorily carry out afforestation work that should have been completed by 2009.
The Project Director,Col R Rastogi,in the RTI,stated that the forest departments of concerned states have to ensure compensatory afforestation as per the Forest Conservation Act,by utilising an amount paid by the NHAI.
Sources in the Punjab forest department said that the state would lose around 714 hectares of forest cover due to the project and to compensate the loss,the forest department was required to replant trees on 1,428 hectares of land,which is double that of the axed forest. As per the norms of Compulsory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA),double the area is replanted , said a senior officer in Punjab Forest department.
As per this calculation,Punjab is required to replant over three lakh trees but till date,the forest department has no details on how many trees have been replanted. The revelation comes in the backdrop of information that there has hardly been any increase in the existing forest cover over the past year,despite a Punjab government proposal to plant 1.14 crore saplings on over 6,600 hectares of land.
When contacted Principal Chief Conservator Forest,HS Gujral,on his behalf Kuldip Kumar of the forest department,admitted that at the moment only one-fourth of the cut trees were planted. Gujral,however,blamed the delay on a case pending in the Supreme Court and said afforestation authority (CAMPA) released money quite late with only 10 per cent of the total amount being released in the first instalment. Gujral said that the department would now achieve its afforestation target soon as,according to him,CAMPA has started releasing funds.