In 2008, the Maharashtra government had formulated its State Forest Policy which aimed to bring 33 per cent of the state under forest cover. The policy was in line with the National Forest Policy, which talked about the need for conservation, afforestation and increasing tree cover.
However, eight years down the line, despite Rs 6,881 crore being spent on the project, the state has not seen any increase in its forest cover. On the contrary, the recent report prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) shows the dense forest cover in the state has seen a dip over the last eight years.
With 50,650 square kilometres of recorded forest land, around 16.46 per cent of the state is under the forest. After the formulation of the State Forest Policy, funds were allocated for increasing the forest cover as well as fund other afforestation activities. As mentioned above, records show that around Rs 6,881 crore has been spent on the this project in the last eight years, but instead of an increase, there has been an dip of of 22 sq km in the forest cover of the state. The dip have been observed in the very dense and moderately dense forests while there has been an increase in the open forest area in the state.
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In 2016, the state, as per records, has 50,628 sq km of forest land, which is 16.45 per cent of the state’s total area.
The Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR), an annual publication of the Ministry of Environment and Forest for 2015, states the decrease in the forest land was due to diversion of forest area for non-forestry purposes, encroachment etc.
Also, during the course of its audit, the CAG pointed out how the state government had failed to meet the fund demands made by the forest department.
While the National Forest Commission had mandated that the state should not earmark less than 2.5 per cent of its budget for the forest department, the budgetary allocation for the department in Maharashtra in the last eight years ranged from 0.64 to 1.10 per cent only.
Jayant Kulkarni, executive director of the Wildlife Research and Conservation Society of India, said, Plantation will not solve the problems plaguing the forests of the state. There are no efforts being made to tackle the root issues.”
Kulkarni said that encroachment and forest fires were also major problems.
Neema Phatak, Kalpavrishka Environmental Action Group, said the laxity in implementation was one of the major factors leading to deforestation in the state.