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Explained: What Punjab must do to increase its forest cover

Here is a look at how compensatory afforestation, which was on hold due to insufficient funds, will help Punjab increase its forest cover to the minimum required area.

Written by ANJU AGNIHORI CHABA | Jalandhar |
Updated: August 31, 2019 2:41:50 pm
punjab forest cover, punjab compensatory afforestation, what is compensatory afforestation, amarinder singh At present, Punjab has a forest cover of 6.87%. (Representational)

The Punjab government on Friday received Rs 1,040 crores from the Centre under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). Chief Minister Captaina Amarinder Singh said the fund, which was pending since long, would be used for greening Punjab and increase its forest cover. At present, the state has a forest cover of 6.87%.

Here is a look at how compensatory afforestation (CA), which was on hold due to insufficient funds, will help the state increase its forest cover to the minimum required area.

What is Compensatory Afforestation (CA)?

When forest land is converted for any development purpose, including widening of roads and setting up of a petrol pump, trees are cleared to execute the concerned project. The practice of CA is an additional plantation activity and is not included in the regular annual plantation drives. It is done on both forest and non-forest land.

As per CAMPA norms, a state is required to cover almost double the converted forest area under CA, depending upon the nature of the project. For instance, if the trees are axed on an area of 1,000 hectares, then an area of 2,000 hectares are required to be covered with tree saplings.

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What is the target under CA for Punjab?

Data sourced from the forest department revealed that the stipulated area under CA was fixed at 4,208.61 hectares in Punjab since 1980 till 2004 against the conversion of 2,574.28 hectares forest land in 1,036 cases. Punjab had implemented CA on the entire required 4,208.61 hectares of land, including 3,255.24 hectares on forest land and 953.37 hectares land on non-forest land.

Since 2004 till March 31, 2019, Punjab has converted 8,714.83 hectares of forest area to execute 3,553 projects, including roads. Against this conversion, Punjab was supposed to bring 13,858.21 hectares under forest cover, including 13,442.31 hectares of forest land under its CA target. However, the state could bring only 11,976.60 hectares and is still lagging behind by 1,881.61 hectares.

By meeting CA goals, how much area would increase under Punjab’s forest cover?

Punjab has 50,362 sq km area and currently, 3459 sq km area (6.87%) is under its forest and tree cover according to the ‘Forest Survey of India Assessment’. This forest cover includes 1,837 sq km of forest cover (eight sq km under very dense forest, 806 sq km under moderately dense forest and 1,023 sq km under open forest) and 1622 sq km of tree cover.

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If Punjab is able to meet its remaining target of 1,881.61 hectares, for which the funds have been released, its forest and tree cover would increase to 3477.82 sq km from 3,459 sq km, that is 6.90% from 6.87% of the total area of the state.

Between 1980 to 2004 when Punjab met its cent percent CA target, the state forest cover was still less than 4% of the total geographical area.

How much area is required to increase forest cover from 15% to 19%?

If Punjab wants to bring 19% of its land under forest cover, then it needs to enhance its land from the current 3,459 sq km to 7,500 to 9,500 sq km (7.50 lakh hectares to 9.50 lakh hectares while currently, it has 3.47 lakh hectares).

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According to the National Forest Policy, there should be 33% forest cover in India as a whole. In plains, the forest cover should be 20% of the geographical area. Experts said Punjab should have at least 15% to 19% forest area and tree cover as 84% of the land is under agriculture and horticulture cultivation.

How can the goal be achieved?

Experts in the forest department said CA will not alone solve the problem and that there is is a need to enhance the area. For instance, each time a state or the National Highway Authority of India adopt a road-widening project, it should select the non-forest and non-tree cover area.

In case this is not possible, then the tree cover of one side of an existing road should be axed and the cover on the other side must be saved. Doing so will save at least half the tree cover.

Also, tree saplings along the roads must be planted during the construction of highways so that by the end of the project, the samples have grown and increased in height. In such situations, no extra manpower is required since the construction staff is already on the road, an expert said.

Besides this, a massive tree plantation drive should be launched on vacant lands, government schools and buildings with an aim to save at least 50% of them. At present, the rate of tree survival is just 20% to 25%.

Agro-forestry must be encouraged among farmers too.

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First published on: 31-08-2019 at 02:41:49 pm
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