Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How Forest Land in India Getting Lost to Industrial Projects over the Last 30 Years

Forests Replaced by Over 23,716 Industrial Projects

Encroachments engulfed forests equal to two-thirds of Haryana (15,000 sq km) over the last 30 years in India. During the same period, around 23,716 industrial projects taken over 14,000 sq km of forest land in India according to Government data.

Artificial forests have been planted in response. However, no artificial forests can replace the natural forest as acknowledged recently by the government. The auditor from the government also admitted that these projects have taken forest lands through violation of existing norms. The experts also suggested that these government data (which is already high and shocking) are under-estimates.

According to Indian Institute of Science (Centre for Ecological Sciences) the dense forest areas in Western Ghats have reduced by around 5% over the last decade. Several human activities including the building of dams, power plants, defence projects, mining, roads and other industries are decreasing the forest land in India every day. Every year around 250 sq km of forests are getting lost in India.

Since 1980, Punjab has diverted 50% of its forest land in comparison to less than 1% diverted by West Bengal, Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu.

The surprising fact is that according to government reports, the forest land in India has increased in the last 29 years from 640,819 sq km to 701,673 sq km, which is equivalent to 21.34% of the country. This increase in forest land despite deforestation through industrial projects is explained by tree plantation. However, most of these trees planted are monocultures, which can never fulfil and replace the diversity of fauna and flora present in natural vegetations. So, the government reports may show a considerable increase in forest lands, specifically in the last 13 years, in reality the natural forest and its ecosystem get lost permanently.

Defence projects and construction of dams claimed most of the forest lands in India. As per Forest Conservation Act, 1980 forest lands should remain inviolate and diversion should be an exception. However, over the last three decades 14,000 sq km forest lands had been cleared for mining (4,947 sq km), defence (1,549 sq km) and hydroelectric projects (1,351 sq km) according to the ministry of environment and forests. Most of the encroachments are suffered by the states Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka, while other states such as Kerala, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh have started reducing such encroachments.

‘Compensatory forestation’ only replaces the trees, but not the ecosystems including diverse flora and fauna lost due to encroachment. The government has accepted that afforestation cannot replace the natural forest way back in April, 2006. In a natural forest there are thousands of millions of flora and fauna coexisting in a complex ecosystem, where every species depends on others for survival. This is the beauty of nature. How artificial plantation (mostly monocultures i.e. Forest, consisting of one type of trees) in a different region can replace that?

The recent increase in leopard attack in Uttarakhand clearly shows the lack of living space for them in the forests. Over the last 30 years, most forest lands are cleared in Arunachal Pradesh followed by Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh (3,338; 2,477 & 1,079 sq km respectively). Many industrial projects were allowed inside forest lands, thereby heavily affecting the lives of wild animals and humans living in the surrounding areas.

As per records from the Wildlife Conservation Society, from 2001 to 2010 550 people in Uttarakhand were attacked by leopards killing 198 of them.

Conditions under which forests cleared were widely ignored and penalties were flawed, encouraging encroachment and the result is devastating. We have already lost priceless natural fauna and flora and calling for natural catastrophe (as observed in recent years in Uttarakhand and other places in India).

It is high time we stop using dense forest land for industrial, defence or hydroelectric projects. Afforestation of diverted forest lands should be done with native flora to minimize the impact of lost forest as much as possible.

Graphs Source: Lok Sabha

The post first appeared in KenFolios - Only interesting stories.

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