Unable to plant 30 mn trees, Punjab looks to private land

Planting of so many saplings is essential to fulfil the demand of the nearly 5,000 wood-based industries in Punjab. Punjab’s forest minister Tikshan Sud, while chairing a high level meeting of forest officials here Wednesday, directed them to ensure that agro-forestry was taken up in the state in a big way. But officials told him that not enough government land was available in the state to plant 30 million saplings annually.

“If the requisite government land for the afforestation programmes is not available in the state, plantation of high quality planting stock of clonal origin having greater yield per unit area should be promoted on private land to cater to the demand of the industry,” the minister said.

A committee of senior officers of the forest department has been set up to explore the feasibility of undertaking agro-forestry plantations on vacant farm lands of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and absentee farmers through suitable incentives. Against the requirement of 30 million plants, just about 14 million plants were being planted every year in the state through agro-forestry and other afforestation programmes, officials said.

Punjab’s wood-based industry requires three million cubic metre of wood annually.
Bhagwant Singh Ahluwalia, a leading agriculturist in Hoshiarpur, the Punjab district that has the maximum tree cover, says that the government should come out with a proper policy on planting trees.

“Poplar and eucalyptus trees are used in plywood and board industry. Eucalyptus can even be planted on wasteland whereas poplar requires irrigated land. The government should have a proper nursery with up to the mark poplar plants. Even mango trees can be planted,” Ahluwalia, who grows poplars said.

“As for using private and land of NRIs, it is for the owners to decide what they want to plant. The government cannot force them to plant trees,” he added. The minister said that the forest department would set up one or two centralised high-tech forest nurseries with their own hedge gardens for sourcing high quality planting material along with mist chambers and greenhouses.

“This will help in the production of 15 to 30 lakh (1.5-3 million) seedlings of clonal plants every year for supply to farmers. These nurseries would be set up in partnership with private sector,” Sud said.

The forest department has also decided to carry out a detailed survey of suitable private nurseries in the state to integrate them in afforestation activities. Punjab, with an area of over five million hectares, has a forest cover of just about six percent. Nearly 84 percent of the state’s area is under agriculture -- it being the biggest contributor to the nation’s foodgrain (wheat and paddy) kitty.

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