In the last 20 years, Uttar Pradesh government has planted only 5,524 saplings whereas it was supposed to plant 2.58 lakh saplings in lieu of trees it had cut for various projects around Taj Mahal. This is a meagre 2.1 per cent of the total saplings that the state was obligated to plant since 1996 as compensatory afforestation.
The startling disclosure has come by way of an admission by the state government in its affidavit filed Monday following a reproach by the Supreme Court, which had described use of funds meant for compensatory afforestation as a “fertile ground for corruption.”
The state said it obtained permission to fell trees as many as 13 times since the apex court started monitoring a PIL on protecting Taj Mahal from pollution by putting a green cover in its vicinity. It cut more than 26,000 trees for a number of projects in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), which is a defined area of 10,400 sq km around the monument, spread across six districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras, Aligarh and Kasganj.
The state was ordered by the court to plant 2,58,208 saplings in lieu of the trees felled but it has planted only 5,524 till date. The compensatory afforestation was required to be done over an area of 860 hectare, which is now a degraded forest because of intensive felling of trees.
The affidavit discloses that out of the 860 hectare of degraded forest, the compensatory afforestation has been taken up by the government only in 28 hectare, a mere 3.2 per cent. Most of the degraded forests are in Agra and Mathura districts.
Interestingly, the affidavit, filed by the Conservator of Forests, has not furnished any reason for their inability to plant saplings even as they regularly obtained permission to cut trees, and explicitly denied any financial irregularity or misappropriation of funds. As per the affidavit, a single instance of a wasteful expenditure of Rs 2.84 lakh had been found.