Old norms killing saplings, green cover in Aravali range

GURGAON: Illegal mining and the felling of trees are not the only reasons why the Aravalis are fast losing their forest cover. The other, perhaps the biggest, problem is the government’s plantation schemes which are grossly inadequate for the sustainable development of green cover.
Under Haryana’s plantation schemes, funds are allotted for the watering of saplings only three times a year as compared to the Delhi government’s norms which provide funds for the watering of saplings three times a week during the first year of plantation.

This was recently revealed in an answer to an RTI application. Senior forest officials say this is because of an archaic law formulated 40-50 years ago when climatic conditions were very different from now and when Haryana got more rainfall and its water tables were higher. Now, because of drastic changes in both, the survival rate of plantations has plummeted to 20-25% from an earlier 70-75%.
“Under the government’s urban forestry scheme, about Rs 16,000 is allotted per `running kilometre’ for the care of 166 saplings. The scheme stipulates that saplings be watered a maximum of three times a year. The Centre’s forest development scheme allots Rs 12,800 per hectare, using which we are required to water plants twice a year,” said D K Sinha, conservator of forests, Gurgaon.

Forest officials say the norms need severe revision. “We have been writing to higher authorities asking that changes be made to policy because conditions have changed completely. The region is getting more arid by the day because of scanty rainfall, which leads to depleting water tables, and because of which it has become difficult for plants to survive,” Sinha said.

Other factors are also responsible for the depletion of forest cover. “Since most areas of the region are managed by local communities and panchayats, the forest department cannot develop them the way it wants to. Grazing and tree felling are also rampant,” Sinha added.

Forest officials said the funds crunch has also affected the quality of trees planted. “Earlier we used to plant dhak, dhok, khairy, ronjh, hingota, salar, gugal, mesquite, papri saplings, which had high leaf cover and timber value. Now we plant only wild trees like the keekar which have low leaf cover and no timber value,” said Devendra Rao, forest range officer, Gurgaon range.

If the survival rate of plantations is less than 70%, lower-rung officials are made scapegoats, and the lost money recovered from them by cutting their salaries. “It is difficult to carry out operations like earth works, soil preparation, weeding, water supply, etc with the meagre funds we get,” said Rao.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, express concern. “At a time when issues like global warming and climate change are on top of every country’s agenda even our own politicians and officials are talking about the adverse effects of deforestation the information released by the forest department shows the government is not serious about the issue,” said Vivek Kamboj, an environmentalist.

“It is very important to plant saplings, but our responsibility does not end there. We have to make certain the saplings are kept alive and healthy. Which will not happen if immediate measures are not taken to change existing laws,” said Kamboj.

Environmentalists said the existing norms are not really helping the state’s efforts to increase Haryana’s forest cover. “While the National Forest Policy says that ideally every state should have 33% of its area under forest cover, Haryana scores a dismal 7% on that point. The state did not even meet the 10% target which it had set for itself,” Kamboj added.

Read more: Old norms killing saplings, green cover in Aravali range – Delhi – City – The Times of India

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