The forest cover in north coastal Andhra Pradesh is shrinking due to increasing encroachments. About 165 hectares of forest area has vanished in this part of the state due to encroachments during 2010-11. In all, about 36.44 sq.km of forest cover has been lost across the state during the same period, contributing to overall loss of 70 sq.km of forest area in the state since 2008.
The total notified forest area in the state is 63,814 sq.km, which accounts for 23.2 per cent of the geographical area of Andhra Pradesh.
According to forest officials, there has been an upsurge in denudation of forests in the state since the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act came into force in 2008.
The Act relates rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources.
“It is estimated that the total loss of forest cover between 2008 and 2012 could be nearly 100 sq.km. But a scientific study should be carried out and the exact statistics can be known on completion of data collection after three years from now,” said a senior forest officer. The forest department carried out a study on the loss of forest cover and completed the data collection during 2010-11 which was submitted in December 2012.
In the Visakhapatnam Circle comprising Narsipatnam, Paderu, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram divisions, about 165 hectares of forest area has disappeared. Incidentally, the Visakhapatnam Circle recorded encroachment of 454 hectares during 2009 and also 2010, immediately after the Act came into force. “But encroachments have come down a little now as a result of sustained awareness campaigns, education and policing,” said another official.
But the Paderu division recorded a positive change with growth of forest cover in 14.80 hectares over previous years. Further, about 2.47 hectares of forest land was diverted for non-forestry purposes in the Visakhapatnam division.
It was found that the decrease in the forest cover was due to harvesting (clear-felling) of matured plantations, clearance of bush growth, preparation of land for raising plantations and fresh encroachments triggered by recognition of the rights of occupation under the Act.
On the other hand, smugglers too are having a field day in some places due to lack of security. Sources said that there is only one forest guard to man 2,500 hectares to 7,500 hectares of forests, which is a herculean task. There are more than 30 per cent vacancies in the department with some more posts likely to fall vacant this year.