India Together has an article by Himanshu Upadhyaya on afforestation measures by the Madhya Pradesh government and how they fall significantly short of their intended targets. The article summarizes an audit by the Comptoller and Auditor and General (CAG) on the diversion of forest land for non forest purposes and the mandatory compensatory afforestation measures taken thereafter and comes up with a depressing but not entirely unexpected finding:
Since the coming into force of the Forest (Conservation) Act, Madhya Pradesh has diverted 51,018 hectares of forest land for non-forest purposes for some 734 projects. While as per the provisions of the Act, the state needed to carry out compensatory afforestation on 73,213 hectares of land as mitigation measures, audit scrutiny of the records in nodal office revealed that as on June 2006, compensatory afforestation has not been carried out at all in the case of 289 projects (39 per cent shortfall at projects level) and on 13,441 hectares of stipulated land (18 per cent shortfall at land covered) after having been unable to utilize Rs.82.60 crores (75 per cent shortfall on utilisation of funds) recovered from user agencies towards the same.
The article points out the many irregularities involved in the compensatory afforestation program. A while ago I wrote a series of posts on deforestation in India's many forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Using the biannual forest survey by the Forest Survey of India and some readily available satellite images I had pointed out that prime wildlife habitats in many tiger sanctuaries have lost forest areas and that afforestation is being carried out without an ecological and bio geographical context. That was based on the 2003 survey. The latest survey made available depicting the situation in 2005 also shows that out of the many forest categories dense forests suffered the most losses. This is almost inevitable considering that riverine basins where big dams come up tend to contain particularly rich dense forests and timber leases are also given in forests with high density of large trees. Additional loses are due to encroachment and clearing of forest for agriculture, mining and freak events like fires. Incidently check out this article on how compensation for ecological losses due to forest submergence is being decided and how developers come up with innovative ways to minimize their responsibility. Currently the total forest cover in India stands at around 20% of the geographic area. The government wants to increase it by around 5% during the 11th 5 year plan. While this is a laudable goal, the implementation resembles more a blind pursuit of statistic, turning our afforestation programs into a book keeping exercise, losses of prime bio diverse forests being compensated with monocultures in many cases far away from areas that need forest cover and forest corridors and webs essential for maintaining viable animal populations.
This audit shows that even those ill thought out afforestation programs are failing miserably. Go take a look at the article and the CAG report. The shoddy ineffectual half hearted approach of the Madhya Pradesh government simply highlights how badly we understand the term "development".