HT Special: ‘God’ seems to be only thing required to protect trees planted by Maharashtra govt in Pune


The forest department’s integrated forest information system website has listed Uttamnagar between Warje and Shivne areas in west Pune as one of locations under the massive ‘13-crore tree plantation drive’ in the state.

A visit to the site by Team HT revealed that pictures of deities had been tied at the base of freshly-planted saplings to prevent people from cutting and destroying them. While some 500 saplings had been planted here, it was found that most of them had dried up in spite of the adequate rains in the past few days.

When asked about the photos of the deities installed at the base of the saplings, Vaibhav Bhalerao, assistant conservator of forests, said, “We are not aware of this initiative. It must have been done by a local NGO or environmentalists to protect the trees.”

Bhalerao said the state forest department had no role in undertaking the afforestation drive in Pune city where tree plantation events were conducted by Pune municipal corporation’s (PMC) garden department and a few NGOs in the city.

As per rule, the forest department conducts its drive only on land which belongs to it, Bhalerao said, adding that about 8,000-10,000 saplings were planted on a 4.5 hectare plot at Bhamburda, Senapati Bapat road.

“The rest of the tree plantation drive was done by the PMC’s garden department which handed over the detailed information of locations and number of saplings planted, etc to us. We updated this information on our website. We don’t have a direct role in undertaking the tree plantation within PMC limits,” he said.

During the site visit, the HT team noticed that not a single sapling had protection of any kind and the plantation was vulnerable to destruction from animals. At many places there was complete absence of soil.

In one location, these young trees were planted next to a huge garbage dump.

“Some of the plants are big enough to survive, but if the administration fails to take care of the plants, nothing will survive. Either goats and cows will eat them or the slum dwellers will cut the saplings for cooking purpose,” said Sachin Mane, a resident of the area.

State finance minister Sudhir Mungantinwar, while presenting the State budget on March 9, had mentioned ~15 crore as the cost for the tree plantation.

Afforestation drive is a credible exercise, says top forest official

A field visit was undertaken by a team from HT as a follow-up to the Maharashtra forest department’s massive ’13-crore tree plantation drive’ in the state, after additional principal chief conservator of forests, P Srivastava, emphatically stated that the massive afforestation drive was “one of the most credible and transparent exercise and leaves no space for speculations.”

Srivastava wrote a letter to HT following criticism from eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil that the Maharashtra government’s massive afforestation exercise involving 13 crore saplings was “nothing, but a farce”.

Speaking to Hindustan Times on the sidelines of a speech that he delivered at the Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad on August 6, Gadgil had raised questions about the credibility of the drive. He had said, “They are going for the numbers. There are several unnecessary plants which are distributed. Most of the time, it’s just ceremonies and publicity they are after. No one knows how they are going to take care of the plants and how many plants will survive next year.”

Reacting to these observations published in HT on August 7, Srivastava wrote to HT saying, “The drive was neither a ritual nor a ceremonial activity. It was a genuinely planned activity based on robust and credible technical inputs from the field. Publicity was purely incidental and not intentional.”

He said the survival count of the saplings planted was carried out twice a year during October and May and “the survival count for 2-crore and 4-crore plantation drive is available in the public domain.”

The senior department official noted that each species has intrinsic biological value. “Yet, while selecting species for plantation, due attention has been paid to their being indigenous in nature, and in accord with site-specific ecological requirement. Any citizen could log into the portal to view the plantation achievement status on a real-time basis,” said Srivastava.

He noted that ‘50 crore plantation mission’ was part of the ‘Green Maharashtra mission’ to raise the existing forest cover in the state from the current 20 per cent to nationally mandated 33 per cent.

The department’s clarification said that every day, collated information of online and offline plantation achievement for the entire state was uploaded.

“That remained in the public domain then and is available even now. This contained information not only of the forest department, but also of 48 other non-forest department departments, besides other stakeholders like corporate, public sector undertakings (PSUs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), etc,” said Srivastava.

Gadgil stands by his comment

When told about the forest department’s assertion that their tree plantation drive was not a farce, Gadgil said, independent committee surveys are necessary to ascertain the facts of such government tree plantation drives.

He pointed out that as per the Biodiversity Act 2002, at the local level, the Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) are to be established by institutions of local self government for implementation of specific provisions of the Act and rules.

At the state level, the State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) have to be established to deal with all matters relating to implementation of the Act and the rules. “However, no such committees are working effectively and independently,” Gadgil said.

“If such independent committee surveys publish their findings about these plantation drives, the truth will come out,” he added.

Green Maharashtra mission

The ‘13 crore plantation mission’ was a part of the Green Maharashtra mission to raise the existing forest cover of the state from the current 20 per cent to the nationally mandated 33 per cent.

1) The programme was a month-long event (July 1-31) and was inaugurated by CM Devendra Fadnavis in Thane on July 1.

2) The plantation programme, which was announced in 2016 with the aim of planting 2 crore trees on July 1, 2016 was a resounding success with the final reported plantation of 2.82 crore saplings on a single day.

3) To maintain consistency of this platform without affecting its momentum, the forest department has set a target of plantation of 4 crore, 13 crore and 33 crore saplings under the mission of 50 crore plantation which is to be accomplished in three consecutive years: 2017, 2018 and 2019.

4) The survival count of plantations is carried out twice a year during October and May.

The drive in numbers

Duration: July 1-31 (31 days)

State target: 13 crore saplings

Achieved: 15.88 crore

No of participants: 38.27 lakh

Pune district target: 71.14 lakh saplings

Achieved: 50.21 lakh (70 per cent)

In forest area: 29.06 lakh

Non-forest area: 17.27 lakh

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 15:21 IST

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