PUNJAB FOREST and Wildlife Preservation Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot recently said the department would distribute around 25 free saplings to various institutes in the current financial year and also prepared to grow 1.8 crores of various types in nurseries under Greening Punjab Mission to increase forest cover in the state. But, Punjab is still far away from its target of bringing 15 per cent area of the state under forest cover by 2020 due to the felling of thousands of trees for various projects.
Sources in the Punjab forest department informed that the state had decided to cut over one lakh well-grown trees for various projects out of which a majority have already been cut. Around 40,000 trees have bene felled for Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar-Barnala four-lane projects, 25,000 along the Bist Doaba Canal, which starts from Ropar and ends in Doaba region, in the name of concreting its sides. Similarly, around 21,000 trees were being cut on the Banga-Ropar highway out of which more than 50 per cent have already been cut.
From Mohali to Ropar, too, over 20,000 trees were felled and around 11,000 cut in Ludhiana division, added sources.
Besides, nearly 1.5 lakh trees were axed for the six-lane project from Panipat to Jalandhar which began in 2010-11. Environmentalist and former state irrigation and drainage department engineer B S Dhillon said he failed to understand the need for cutting trees along the Bist Doaba Canal. “We grow trees on the sides of water sources but our government is going altogether opposite to it,” he said, adding that it was a criminal attack on the state’s environment and ecology.
Greening Punjab Mission was launched in 2012 with an aim of planting 40 crore tree saplings across the state and increase forest area from less than 7 to 15 per cent by 2020. Punjab’s forest cover is around 3,300 sq.km which is not even 7 per cent of the total geographical area (5,036 sq.km) of Punjab.
According to information from the forest department, of the total forest area, 1.43 per cent is reserved forest, 36.87 per cent protected forest and the rest unclassified forests. Most of the forest cover of Punjab falls in the submountainous zone in the districts of Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, SBS Nagar and Ropar. This area constitutes about 77 per cent of the state’s total forest area. Maximum forest cover of Punjab is in Hoshiarpur district, that is 1,148 sq.km, which is 33 per cent of the area under forests in the state.
“The increase in forest cover could be done with enhanced plantation activities and spurt in agri-forestry practices,” said a senior forest department official, adding that cutting of well-grown trees must be checked.
He stressed that trees along the Bist Doaba Canal could have been spared.
“In the past one decade, we have supplied over 10 crore plants for plantation, including around five crore in the past five years, which could have increased 500 sq.km forest in Punjab but the unabated cutting has created a mess,” said another senior official.
Dharamsot said they are committed to increasing forest cover and farmers were being encouraged to take up agri-forestry. “We are going to purchase new lands where we will grow trees to increase the area apart fom engaging universities and colleges to come forward in this mission,” he added.