Starving forest cover

All over the world importance of forest cover is considered of highest priority for the health and wellbeing of the people. Some countries are gifted by Mother Nature with dense and vast forest cover, but there are other countries that do not enjoy this natural gift.  Fortunately, our country is among those that enjoy good forest cover in many parts. Forests have impact on the climatic conditions of the country concerned.
For a number of reasons, forest lands have to be diverted to non-forest purposes. For example, in the wake of expanding industrial enterprise of a country like ours, land is needed as an item of basic infrastructure. This is true of our State as well. Increase in population brings pressures on natural resources like water, space and services. This also leads to shrinking of forest cover. Encroachment of forest land is also a loss to the forest wealth.
However, no doubt, in our State, forest authorities and policy planners have envisaged in good time the need of afforestation. As a result, we have the important forest conservation wing which takes care of giving new life to forest wealth by planting saplings of the variety that flourish in respective forest compartments. However, we have been noticing gradual decline in the allocations for afforestation programmes in our annual budget. Although, the Government functionaries have been emphasizing on the importance of green cover also called green gold, yet we find that the allocations for maintaining the forest cover especially for nude areas have been dwindling which has become a reason for concern for the ecologists in the State. For implementing developmental schemes necessity diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes is continuously taking place that too at a large scale in Jammu and Kashmir during the past several years. However, pace of afforestation is not up to the mark only because of meager financial resources despite the tall claims of the present dispensation about conservation of green gold wealth of the State. We have a copy of the document that shows how the allocation of funds has been declining after 2013. The afforestation is carried out by the Forest Department with funds made available under State Sector, District Sector, National Afforestation Programme and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) etc. During the financial year 2013-14, an amount of Rs 223 crore was made available from all the resources for afforestation of nude forest areas and by utilizing this amount Forest Department treated 13603 hectares of area by planting 93.05 lakh plants. However, during the financial year 2014-15, the allocation was reduced to Rs 80.60 crore as a result of which only 8447.53 hectares of forest area could be covered under afforestation drive by planting merely 55.87 lakh plants. In 2015-16, the financial resources were squeezed to Rs 58.47 crore due to which only 8015 hectares of area could be taken up for afforestation. The intensity of continuous decline in financial assistance for the afforestation purpose can be gauged from the fact that during the current financial year (up to ending December 2016) an amount of only Rs 17.56 crore was made available for this vital exercise as a result of which only 3126 hectares of area could be taken up and only 8.23 lakh plants were planted.
We have quoted these figures from the official document of the Forest Department. From Rs 223 crore in 2013 the allocations have come down to Rs 17.56 crore and this shows the low priority assigned to afforestation programme by the Government. If the trend of reducing allocations for afforestation continues for some more years, we will be facing a critical condition in regard to our ecological balance. Many of our forests will become nude and apart from ecological degradation we shall also be losing the lever of attracting tourists. Thus, we see that the Government though believing it is saving funds on the one hand is actually losing it on the other. In these circumstances, we are gravely concerned and would like to convey to the authorities that providing sufficient funds to the Forest Department is highly advisable to ensure that we do not lose our green gold.
However at the same time, we also expect the Forest Department to show its ability of showing commendable output by planting maximum number of saplings and bringing more of nude forest lands under plantation. The department must streamline its activities and show innovative approaches to the philosophy of afforestation. There has to be close cooperation between the Revenue and Forest Departments and records have to be set clear and clean showing the boundaries of forest lands. Moreover, a concerted effort has to be made to vacate the illegal encroachments of forest land because we know huge forest lands have been illegally occupied by powerful persons.