CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu is in the process of unveiling a major greening project with an aim to bring 33 per cent of the state's total geographical area under forest and tree cover in the next 10 years.
This means an estimated 35 crore saplings have to be planted and it has to be ensured there is at least 60-65 per cent survival rate. Chief Minister MK Stalin, who recently chaired the review meeting of the Environment and Forests Department, has instructed officials to draw out proposals to accomplish the mission.
Sources told The New Indian Express that the current forest cover in Tamil Nadu is 23.9 per cent, of which 20.27 per cent is the protected area comprising five national parks, 29 wildlife sanctuaries and two conservation reserves. The rest 3.63 per cent is tree cover outside the forest area.
As per the India State of Forest Report (ISFR-2019), Tamil Nadu has increased its forest cover by 83.02 sq. km as compared to the previous assessment report in ISFR-2017. The total forest cover in the State is
26,364.02 sq km, however, the worrying sign is that only 3,605.49 sq. km is classified as Very Dense Forest (VDF) which means large tracts of forest area has degraded.
A senior forest official has acknowledged that some of the forest areas, including the core tiger reserve areas, has degraded due to the spread of invasive species like 'seemai karuvelam' (Prosopis Juliflora).
"We discussed this issue also during the CM review meeting. We can not remove these invasive species all of a sudden, which would be counterproductive. A scientific approach has to be adopted for habitat improvement."
Similarly, to achieve a 33 per cent forest and tree cover target, there has to be a systematic and coordinated approach between all the government departments.
"This mammoth mission cannot be achieved by the forest department alone. The tree plantation will be undertaken outside the forest area. The area to be identified includes schools, institutions, highways, parks and other public spaces. For these, there has been a synergy between all the line departments," the official said.
Meanwhile, sources said the second phase of the Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project (TBGP), whose objective is to increase the tree cover outside forest areas, was under active consideration of the Union environment ministry. The project costs Rs 1,800 crore and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) would be offering financial assistance.
"JICA is currently evaluating the project," said an official.
The first phase of TBGP was mired in controversies. In 2017, the CAG had raised several audit objections over failures in financial management, selection of plantation area and failure to ensure the survival of the planted saplings resulting in non-achievement of the green cover to an extent of 19,044 hectares.
Chennai's green spaces shrinking
Chennai holds a dismal record when it comes to protecting its green spaces. Out of a total geographical area of 175 sq. km, only 12.84 sq. km is the forest cover which is 7.34 per cent. This green cover is also largely concentrated around Guindy National Park. Compared to ISFR-2017, the city lost 1.16 per cent of its green cover in 2019.