Relaxation in law is depleting tree cover outside protected forest areas in Himachal

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Photo used for indicative purpose only. Source: Internet

Shimla, Feb 18

Relaxation in law is depleting broadleaf tree cover outside forest areas in Himachal. It is highly evident now that Global warming and fast melting of Glaciers has started wreaking havoc, yet the local governments in Himalayan states are easing laws to encourage green felling whereas invasive species like lantana showing major increase.

Why so?

Till 2017 many varieties of trees grown outside forestland, in private agriculture lands holdings were kept in the schedule  species as per HP Forest Produce Transit ( Land Route) rules 2013 (notified by the Government in Nov 30, 2013).

However in April 2017 the said rules were amended and a more broadleaf variety of trees were excluded from the schedule list, thus only encouraging green felling.  Section 41 and 42 of the Indian forest Act 1927 provides power to state government to amend the said rules.

The depletion of green cover outside the forest land areas could be attributed to the free reign being given to people for putting down trees of many sort of varieties growing in their personal land holdings.

The government amendment of adding more varieties of trees to the list of those allowed felling on pvt lands, paved the way for axing of a large number of domestic varieties to the newly innovated power saw clearing.

The finding of report becomes alarming to the stakeholders as even Oak, Toon and a number of other species which tune to more than two dozen were allowed to be green fell in the outside forest lands.

The notifications made four years ago by current State Government facilitated green felling and eased transits of local forest proceeds. Besides the new number of tree varieties added to the list in the amendment speaks volumes how the decision makers seized to the market forces despite illusionary ban on green felling in the state forests.

What is the amendment
As many as  24 plant species being grown on the Private Land have been exempted from the requirement of Transit passes which listed under Schedule -1. Relaxing the norms under this notification, the Department framed the new rules that land owners should intimate in writing to the concerned Range Forest Officer about the harvest to be reaped. The RFO himself or through the local forest Guard (his representative) will inspect and present report whether to allow harvest of produce or not. They shall even provide an estimate of yield before starting the harvest.

The range Forest Officer shall issue a letter to the landowner giving detail of forest produce obtained from the private land. Landowners should carry such a letter during the transportation of the verified forest produce.

Where it went wrong

The said notification seemed to be not followed verbatim and besides even the department could not check the relentless green felling on the private land, thus opening floodgates to even forest mafia. Many of them were waiting for such an opportunity without riders on them.

In last few years green forests were cleared in Shoghi, Shilonbagh and Chanog areas of this district however the forest authority remained in Nelson sleep. The lack of sensitivity towards the green cover or forest cover could not be merely attributed to the state forest authority moreover, it is the feign oblivion of the concerned ruling class also.

Trees allowed under notification

Number of broad leaf Trees which being allowed under the notification are Indian Willow or Biuns ( known for its strong root system), Bambo Culms/ Lathi bans, Maggar, Dharainch or Bans, Kuth, Kala Zira, Japanese Shehtot, paper mulbery,paik, Koii, Kosh, Kunis, Khunish, Nyun, Khirk and Khadki, Darak, Bakin, Fagoora, Phagoora, Tiammble, timla, Tirmal, Anjiri, Cluster Fig and Goolar. Timber trees, Toon(Tuni)) Jamun, Teak, Sagun, Sagwan, Arjun, Semal, Shalmaltas, Bihul, Beul, Bhimal, Bhinulal, dhanman, Paza , Padam, Kamala, Raini. Rohan, Rohini and Sinduri , Aam(Wild Variety and Rishtak , Ritha and Dode etc. , are among others.

It is worthwhile to mention that the Supreme Court taking action on the green felling alongside the four lane and other highway projects imposed ban on the green felling of Mango (Wild geno type), Pipal( Ficus Religious), Banyan ( Ficus Benaglious ). Other species continued to be allowed to green fell and for the forest diversion, Apex court has allowed the green felling under the FCA and FRA. State Government on Feb 8, 2021 issued notification in this respect following the partial ban on the felling of Mango, Pipal and Banayan trees however it is allowed for domestic use with official route.

The State Government has restored the TD Rights of people in the state a few years back. However, the way a new exposure was made by a media report signifies that a TD right was also extended to the non-agriculturists and those who are not being entitled for the same. The failure of the Government to bring such people to book who are making mockery of environment protection norms is quite visible.

“The presence of power Saw and a large number of labour (especially Kashmiri who are termed experts of wood-cutting) in the state forest areas seems to be raising the alarm bell. Besides the way a number of young forest guards were mysteriously killed while protecting forest wealth in the state owned protected areas could be sufficient to understand the state of affairs in the private forest land, an environmentalist lamented.

As per Indian State of forest report 2019, based on the interpretation of IRS Resourcesat-2 LISS III satellite data of the period Oct to Dec 2017, the Forest Cover in the State is 15,433.52 sq km which is 27.72% of the State’s geographical area. In terms of forest canopy density classes, the State has 3,112.71 sq km under Very Dense Forest(VDF), 7,125.93 sq km under Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) and 5,194.88 sq km under Open Forest (OF). Forest Cover in the State has increased by 333.52 sq km as compared to the previous assessment reported in ISFR 2017.

It is to worthwhile to mention here that Forest cover is all Land more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than ten percent irrespective of ownership and legal status. Such land may not necessarily be a recorded forest area, but it also includes orchards, Bamboos and palms.

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