Compensatory plantation: How serious is Assam Forest Department?
Does the State Forest Department follow the practice of planting two saplings against the felling of a tree for the construction of infrastructure in any forest area?
GUWAHATI: Does the State Forest Department follow the practice of planting two saplings against the felling of a tree for the construction of infrastructure in any forest area? This is a million-dollar question.
The widening of highways by felling trees in forest areas is a common practice in Assam. For instance, construction companies have felled as many as 7,125 trees in forest areas in Kamrup and Goalpara districts with permission from the department in the name of widening the National Highway 17. According to the existing norm, the state Forest Department should have planted as many as 14,250 saplings as compensatory replantation. However, according to its own data, the state Forest Department has replanted only 784 trees against them in the past two years.
According to sources, the construction companies have a fixed budget for compensatory plantations for every tree they fell, and they pay the amount to the State Forest Department. If the companies engaged in the construction of NH-17 have paid the amount for compensatory plantation to the Forest Department, it is as clear as daylight that the department has failed in the job of compensatory plantation. Even the department has the option to do its compensatory plantation in any forest area, not necessarily in roadside areas.
Such examples galore in some other forest areas in the state, like in Diphu-Doboka, where construction companies felled thousands of trees that have no accounts of compensatory plantations.
The state has 312 reserve forests covering 26,836 square kilometres. The forests in the state are of three types: dense forest, moderately dense forest, and open forest. According to a 2021 report by the Central Government, the area of moderately dense forest in Assam decreased by 288 square km.
The Amrit Brikshya Andolan, in which the people of the state planted one crore commercial trees on private land, will increase the tree cover in the state but will not expand forest area coverage. According to sources, to increase forest cover from the current 36 percent to 38 percent in the state, the State Government needs to keep the activities of the Forest Department on its radar, besides busting the nexus between a section of forest officials and timber smugglers.