Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on Friday announced the launch of his ministry’s Nagar Van scheme, which aims at developing 200 urban forests across the country over the next five years.
Speaking during the virtual celebration of World Environment Day, Javadekar said, “We have gardens and parks in our cities but we don’t really have forests. I urge 200 municipalities and corporations across the country to develop plans for implementing the scheme. The scheme will be, in part, paid for by the CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016) funds. This project had been started in Pune in 2015, and has been a great success.”
The minister also released a brochure on the best practices on urban forests, and said that the forests were to come up either on existing forest land or on any other vacant land offered by urban local bodies.
The Pune project, that is the Warje Urban Forest, has been “successful in converting 16.8 hectare of barren hill into green forests”, Maharashtra Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod said, adding that the forest is rich in biodiversity with 23 plant species, 29 bird species, 15 butterfly species, 10 reptiles and 3 mammal species.
The India State of Forests Report, 2019, released by the Environment Ministry, states that India’s total forest cover has registered a 1.5 per cent increase between 2015 and 2019. However, the fifth edition of an annual report released by the Centre for Science and Environment’s Down to Earth on Thursday found that forests have actually shrunk in 34 per cent of the total 629 districts in the country.
The most affected states, according to Down to Earth’s State of the Environment report, 2020, are Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, where forest cover has shrunk across all districts.
“The bulk of the increase has taken place in the open forest category, which includes commercial plantations. This has happened at the cost of moderately dense forest, which is normally the area close to human habitations. At the same time, very dense forests, which absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, occupy just 3 per cent of total forest cover,” says the Down to Earth report.
Based on government data, the report says that forest cover in 216 out of 629 districts across 27 states and 4 UTs have shrunk. The districts have a combined forest cover of 273,429 square km, which is 38 per cent of India’s forests.
Meanwhile, a March 2020 report by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) has found that 13,656.60 hectare of land was recommended for diversion for non-forestry activity such as mining, road and rail infrastructure and hydel projects. The environmental body had analysed 423 proposals for the forest diversion between January and December 2019.
Linear proposals such as roads, railways, transmission lines and pipelines, says the study, form the bulk of these proposals.
“We have found that the diversion of forest land has actually reduced. While it was around 3,000 hectare annually, it has now reduced to 1,000 hectare. We feel that this reduction has primarily taken place because of the economic slowdown. And we are extremely concerned with this trend of the bulk of the forest land diversion going to linear projects like roads and railways. For mining, even though that is a big concern, a portion of the forest land is parcelled and given, cutting it off from the rest of the forest land. Linear projects such as a roadway cuts through an entire ecosystem, bifurcating it. And this dividing of the eco-system is what bothers us,” said environmental lawyer and LIFE founder Ritwick Dutta.