CHENNAI: Though there has been an increased demand for forest land for various developmental needs, the Tamil Nadu Forest department has ensured minimum diversion of forest land for any non-forestry purposes. In a long span of more than 37 years, since enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, only 5,038.80 hectares of forest area have been diverted, which is one of the lowest in the country.
In comparison, Arunachal Pradesh has diverted a whopping 3,35,940 hectares, while neighbouring Karnataka has cleared 1,07,717 hectares and Kerala diverted 41,422 hectares.
How has Tamil Nadu managed to safeguard its forests? The answer is simple. The forest department has kept the mining lobby at a safe distance. Not a single forest clearance has been given for mining, when over 5,000 sq km of forest land was lost for mining in other states, according to the official data available with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
RK Upadhyay, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force), told Express that there is no mining activity in the state’s reserve forest. “We outrightly reject all proposals that involve forest diversion for commercial interests. Only requests for laying roads in tribal colonies and building elementary schools are considered which fall within the purview of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. In the last 10 years, there has been very minimal diversion,” he said.
The details of forest clearances given from 1980 up to December 31, 2017, show that about 2,717 hectares of forest land were diverted for Defence services for shooting range purpose, which is the highest, followed by 2,119 hectares for 103 projects, involving water supply and drinking water schemes. In total, 417 projects were carried out diverting about 5,038 hectares of forest area. This is very minimal considering Tamil Nadu has 26,281 sq km of forest cover, which is 20.21 per cent of the state’s geographical area.
Upadhyay said Tamil Nadu is one of the very few states which have recorded increase in forest cover every year. As per the Forest Report-2017, Tamil Nadu has registered a net increase of 73 sq km in forest cover, which can be attributed to plantations and conservation efforts.
The official said the state was aggressively undertaking tree planting exercise under different schemes to bring 33 per cent of geographical area under forest and tree cover. Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project with an outlay of `686 crore is being implemented from 2011-12, which will continue till 2018-19.
Forests must largely remain inviolate and can only be diverted as exceptions, according to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. But, over 14,000 sq km of forests cleared till 2014 in the country and the largest area was given over to mining (4,947 sq km), followed by Defence projects (1,549 sq km) and hydroelectric projects (1,351 sq km), according to the data from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), run by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
According to a reply given in the Lok Sabha by the Environment Ministry in December last year, Haryana has topped the list of states that diverted more forest area between 2015-17. Haryana has diverted 7,944 hectares followed by Telangana (7,149 hectares), Madhya Pradesh (6,420 hectares) and Maharastra (5,285). In the same period, Tamil Nadu has diverted a paltry 57 hectares, official data reveals.
Tree planting exercise
In private lands across TN, 5.8 crore seedlings have been planted in 1.19 lakh hectare farmland benefiting 70,245 farmers. Besides, teak and sandal plantations are also being undertaken