While the proposal is at a preliminary stage, it may entail changes in the Forest Conservation Act, depending on the finalised plans, according to officials

Our Bureau

New Delhi, July 19

THE Environment Ministry plans to adopt a "multi-stakeholder" approach to improve private participation to increase forest cover in the country. The Ministry would soon kick off discussions with Government as well as private parties for the same.

"We plan to take steps to ensure that plantation of commercial trees can be promoted," the Union Minister of Environment and Forests, Mr A. Raja, told newspersons. An inter-ministerial consultation is required with various ministries to iron out issues like the extent of finance that the Government would be willing to extend and the revenue share between the Government and private parties, he said.

While the Ministry is finalising it plans, it would soon seek feedback from various industries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), researchers and other ministries.

"We would adopt a multi-stakeholder approach wherein inputs would be sought from all relevant industries, NGOs, scientists, researchers, officials from Ministries of Rural Development, Agriculture and Mining," the Environment Ministry Secretary, Dr Prodipto Ghosh, explained on the sidelines. The relevant industries would include hardwood industry, paper, matchwood and furniture.

While the proposal is at a preliminary stage, it may entail changes in the Forest Conservation Act, depending on the finalised plans, said officials.

Meanwhile, the country lost 26,245 sq km of dense forests between 2001 and 2003, though the overall forest cover increased by 2,795 sq km. Forest cover includes dense and open forests with a canopy density of over 40 per cent constituting dense forests and those with over 40 per cent constituting open forests. Moreover, forest cover consists of forests and trees that stretch over more than one hectare and are, thus, visible from the satellite.

As much as 3,90,564 sq km of the country's geographical area was under dense forest cover, while open forests covered 2,87,769 sq km, according to the `State of Forest Report 2003' (SFR-2003) released by the Forest Survey of India. A total of 6,78,333 sq km or 20.64 per cent of area is under forest cover.

The total forest and tree cover of the country increased to 7,78,229 square km, constituting 23.68 per cent of the geographic area in 2003, as against 7,57,010 sq km (23.03 per cent of geographic area) in 2001 assessment.

The total tree cover of the country has been estimated as 99,896 sq km or about 3.04 per cent of the country's geographic area, which is 18,424 sq km more than what was assessed in 2001. The term `tree cover' includes all canopies that are not captured by satellite, but are assessed by conducting field inventory.

"We have set a goal to have 25 per cent of the country's land under forest and tree cover by 2007," Mr Raja said. While the Ministry appears to be confident of achieving the 2007 target, it is not quite sure of reaching the long-term target of having 33 per cent of area under forest and tree cover by 2012. To achieve the 2012 goal, Centre needs to spend Rs 8,000 crore every year on afforestation programmes, said Mr Raja.

Asked about the loss in dense forests, Mr Raja attributed it to various industrial, developmental and mining projects being undertaken across the country. "The loss of forests is shown immediately in the satellite pictures during the survey, but compensatory afforestation takes 5-10 years to show up in the survey," Mr Raja said. The Government rules stipulate that those undertaking such projects have to compensate for the loss of forests by planting trees on double the forest land used for the purpose.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 20, 2005)
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