Deforestation with missionary zeal

Despite the forest department being exclusively meant for increasing the forest cover, having an elephantine establishment ever since the formation of the State, the forest cover in the district continues to remain a ridiculous three per cent.

What’s more, the forest cover has been on the decline slowly but steadily. Nevertheless, the Gulbarga Circle and the Gulbarga Division of the department continue to have a huge establishment of forest babus, including three IFS officers - a conservator of forests and two deputy conservators of forest for territorial forestry and social forestry.

The department has been relentlessly cutting trees both in rural and urban areas without following any of the statutory guidelines and norms. The Tree Preservation Act has been totally neglected resulting in alarming deforestation in the district, which once upon a time was part of a thick forest area.

To a Right To Information Act query by Deccan Herald, the department refused to divulge the details of the number of trees axed in the district in the last five years. It has refused to provide the copies of the procedure followed in each case of tree cut.

The Deputy Conservator of Forests (DFO) of Territorial Division, instead of giving information sought, said that after enumeration and calculating the volume of trees in cubic meter, action would be taken to sell the trees as per seigniorage rates. In case of widening of roads, after publishing the notification and following the above procedure, action would be taken to cut the trees, the DFO said.

Apparently, the department appears to be more eager to cut the trees than protecting them. In the last five years, from 2005-06 to 2009-2010, a whopping 12,155 trees have been cut recklessly in the district having an annual normal rainfall of as low as 842 mm and where temperature can cross 46 degree Celsius in May.

The maladministration in the forest department is evident from the constant decline in forest cover. According to the DFO, Gulbarga district has a forest area of 32,974 hectares, which accounts for only three per cent of the total geographical area of 10941.66 sq km. Undisputedly, there has been a steady decline in the forest cover.

In 1964-65, the forest cover was 38,553 hectares, which declined to 34,986 hectares in 1993-94. It further reduced to 32,874 hectares in 2010-11. That means, in the last 45 years, the forest cover of the district has reduced by 6,079 hectares. The DCF admits that there has been no increase in forest area. The revenue from non-timber forest produce (NTFP) has been declining drastically. As per the book ‘Forests and Wildlife of Gulbarga District,’ published by the forest department, the NTFP revenue, which stood at Rs 12.62 lakh in 1999-2000, came down drastically to Rs 2.64 lakh in the subsequent year.

The department does not have any action plan to increase forest cover, although the Lok Adalat of the High Court, headed by Justice N K Patil, had lambasted the department for virtually removing the green cover in Gulbarga district.

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