Callousness inpromoting green


The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has come down heavily on Karnataka Forest, Ecology and Environment Department for violating the Forest Conservation Act while leasing 7,785 hectares of forest land. This comes close on the heels of Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) deciding to revive an old project to plant one crore saplings in the city, at a time when the monsoon is set to end. These two incidents highlight the utter callousness and total lack of commitment of bureaucrats to environmental issues. Among the lapses cited by the CAG is the failure of the forest department to ensure compensatory afforestation in exchange for forest land diverted for other purposes between 2013 and 2018, with the shortfall as high as 50%. Compensatory afforestation is taken up when forest land is diverted for purposes like mining, industries, highways and rail lines. However, in many cases, the department has accepted land unsuitable for afforestation. This could be the tip of the iceberg, as the CAG report pertains to only 10 of the 40 forest divisions in the state.

In the case of BDA, the tree-planting drive should have ideally been undertaken during the onset of monsoon, that is, around May. The drive is part of the eight-year-old Green Garland Project which had to be abandoned mid-way after planting only 28 lakh of the proposed one crore saplings, due to paucity of funds. Ironically, the BDA, by its own admission, has not planted a single sapling in the past two years. While its move to green the city needs to be appreciated, it seems to have got the timing horribly wrong. The Authority argues that rain is inconsequential because the tenders are called even for watering of saplings, but environmentalists like Yellappa Reddy believe that trees should grow naturally.

The India Forest Survey Report ranks Karnataka second among states that have witnessed a growth in the forest area between 2015 and 2017, adding 1,100 sq km of tree cover. Experts, however, say this is based on a flawed definition of the words ‘tree cover’. On the contrary, the Global Forest Watch, a US-based NGO, has reported on the basis of NASA satellite images that the state has lost over 10,000 hectares of forest land in three years. The truth will be revealed only if the government orders a third-party audit into the saplings planted in the last few years and their survival rate. Unless the forest department is made accountable, the tree cover will only grow in the files of babus while the state continues to be stripped of its forests.

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