National forest survey: figures look evasive and unrealistic for Punjab

Chandigarh/ Amandeep Aggarwal: National forest survey data was released yesterday. A side-by-side comparison of the same with available data of Niti Ayog is being attached. Whereas Niti ayog shows Forest Cover as the percent of the total geographic area, the information in the similar format (that was desirable and easily comprehensible) couldn’t be located by me in this latest report for reasons best known to forest survey authorities. Whereas noticeably considerable tree felling has been going on and trolleys full of fallen trees have been a common scene on all highways, it’s astonishing that forest cover has increased in Punjab (+66 square Km) and even Haryana (+8 square Km). Whereas Punjab had zero area as very dense forest in 2015, 8 square Kms exist now at least on papers. Medium density forest area has also increased in Punjab from 733 sq.Kms in 2015 to 806 sq.Km in 2017. A similar increase in an area of medium density forest has been recorded in neighboring state Haryana.

I’m astonished at the fact that even as per affidavits by the forest department in NGT, ample compensatory plantation of saplings has been done in 2017-18. In another affidavit, the forest department had admitted that Punjab had lost almost two lakh trees every year to development works in the past five years (2011-12 to 2015-16). The trees that faced ruthless axe included centuries and decades-old shesham, Banyan, Pipal, neem, Arjuna, Brahma drek, melia, keekar, and eucalyptus. How could the saplings mostly claim to have been planted in last 2 years compensate for the decades-old (if not centuries old ) trees that were felled? What to talk of compensate, the latest report shows an increase in forest cover…..Surprising indeed!

An honest reality check needs to be conducted alongside a scientific study to confirm the authenticity of data as well as the rationale behind the state’s forest policy.

It’s pertinent to mention here that in Punjab a  maximum of 2.4 lakh trees was felled in 2013-14. It was followed by 2.12 lakh trees in 2014-15 and 1.89 lakh in 2015-16. The state has been divided into five forest zones —South circle, North circle, Shiwalik circle, Ferozepur circle and Bist circle. As per the affidavit, the maximum number of felling was done in South circle where 2.48 lakh trees were axed in five years. It was followed by Shiwalik (2.07 lakh), North (1.7 lakh), Ferozepur (1.59 lakh), and Bist (80,511).