There is only once species that will soon be seen in all India’s forests – the human being. In a shocking new revelation from data acquired through Right to Information (RTI) from the Environment Ministry, India’s forests are being turned into concrete jungles with 135 hectares (almost 333 acres) of forest land being diverted every day. Handed over to public and private agencies in the name of development projects, the urban axe is falling on all of India’s jungles.

Forest land diversion in the name of developmental projects like coal mining, irrigation projects, thermal power plants, industrial needs, and river valley projects has always been one of the greatest threats to forests of India. But this is the first time that a pan India data analysis has revealed the extent of the damage done to the forests because of these said projects and forest land acquirement.

As per the data which was compiled by Members of the Environment Impact Assessment Resources and Response Centre (eRc), India is losing 135 hectares of forest land every day! What the team adds is that in reality the numbers are higher because they have just looked at projects which have sought more than 40 hectares of area.

Development Axe

With new malls, new industries and mining projects shaping new India, it really should not come as a surprise that the land on which these modern day structures are being built was once a thriving forest abode of hundreds of plants and animals.

Says Ritwik Dutta, an advocate with Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) and closely associated with eRc, this visible forest land grabbing is present in almost every state with some major ones like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand.

“We are now compiling state-specific data on the extent of land being diverted,” he says.

The advocate however points that such land grabbing can be stopped if people show a little more concern.  An appeal can be sent to the National Green Tribunal if someone observes a forest land turned into such a project.

An example is that of the hundreds of hectares of Amrit Mahal kaval land, categorized as forest land according to Rule 33 of the Karnataka Forest Rules 1969. The said land has been diverted to IISc, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Isro and DRDO. But the diversion is pending owing to a court case and complaint sent to the National Green Tribunal.

Faking Forests

What comes as even more surprising is that although the present data clearly shows the big picture of India losing its forest cover to industrialization every year, the central government releases data annually claiming increase in green cover!

Neeraj Vagholikar of Kalpavriksh, an environmental action group, shows the ground reality.

“The trick is that the forest department manages to add compensatory afforestation programmes to the total forest cover. In reality, such forest cover is virtually non-existent; nobody is sure whether such programmes will be implemented in future or not,” he added.

Even if the official figures of India’s present forest cover are believed, the forests of India are under extreme pressure from use by humans and animals.

Forest cover of India is 19.27% of the geographic area, corresponding to 63.3 million ha. Only 38 million ha of forests are well stocked (crown density above 40%). This resource has to meet the demand of a population of 1 billion plus people and around 450 million cattle.

Thus, country has to meet the needs of 16% of the world’s population from 1% of the world forest resources. If the forest land is therefore diverted at such a fast pace, it can lead to acute shortage of natural resources.

Our view

India has one of the most vivid natural diversity present in any country of the world. The sudden bulldozing of forest land can immediately eradicate this natural treasure, can kill rare and threatened species, and irreparably damage homes of many animals, insects and birds.

Food, fodder, resources, the dependence on forests for each of our needs is undeniable too and as the metallic mazes replace shoots and leaves, there is the bigger challenge of where will we go for all our wants without the ever giving forests.

With climate change becoming a bigger headache each day, it is only wise to increase green cover and not cover the same land with projects that actually lead to more carbon emission and increase global warming.

That the data has been released by the environment ministry only shows, the threat is not a conservationist’s outcry but a clear and imminent danger that the government is aware of and yet perhaps overlooking. Time, we stopped digging our own graves in the name of development.

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Image via cc/Flickr by Emilian Robert Vicol, Tim Fields

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About Atula Gupta

Atula Gupta is the Founder and Editor of Her work has appeared in a number of international websites, dailies and magazines including The Wire, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express, Down to Earth and Heritage India on issues related to environment and its conservation. She is also the author of Environment Science Essentials, a set of books for school children. She hopes this website provides a platform for people to be aware about species in the verge of extinction and heighten their conservation efforts.

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