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Failed policy

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The recent discussion on assessment of the country’s forest resources contained in the India State of Forest Report can be clearly described as state–of the–art jugglery with confusing explanations emanating on it from different quarters. Doubts continue to persist on whether the area under forest in Uttarakhand has gone up or down, and the blame for large scale deforestation in forest tracts of Andhra Pradesh have been blamed on the Naxalites’ presence in the region. While debate will continue to rage on these as well as other related issues, there is one thing that the authorities have conceded in the official Press release, that even as the forest and tree cover of the country is 78.29 million ha, which is 23.81% of the geographical area of the country, there is a decrease of 367 square km in the forest cover.
Uttarakhand faces a ridiculous situation, too, while the numerous Central and State Government Schemes that exist to increase the forest cover are not at all ground–breaking, in more ways than one. These schemes, including the National Afforestation Programme and the Integrated Forest Protection Scheme, among others, have focused on raising the green cover in the state but have actually failed to have any effect on the ground. The efforts that have been launched to increase forest cover are not having the desired effect.
It is not as if nothing concrete has been done to arrest the continuous trend of reduction in the forest density. The various agencies, including the Forest Department, claim to have planted close to about 14 crore saplings in the state, but these saplings are nowhere visible on the ground. The department has a direct explanation for this phenomenon. The plants got destroyed immediately after being planted due to factors such as weather, forest fires, drought and damage due to animal grazing. Actually, in the government schemes, there is a provision for plantation of saplings but there is no practical mechanism in place for their protection. As a result, debate continues among the various departments on whether the forest cover has actually increased or decreased. In fact, the schemes of the various departments holding the responsibility of forest protection and extension are merely on paper. Most of the schemes are those that have already suffered failure. In spite of this, these schemes are re-implemented in the successive year on the hope that these might show better results.
There are specific guidelines with respect to protection of saplings after their planting. There are also standards on the number of surviving plants in the first five years. It is entirely another matter that no pains are taken to adhere to these standards. Under the given situation, possibility of large-scale bungling on the pretext of plantation cannot be ruled out. Had every thing been done as per rules, there would have been a sturdy mechanism of protecting the saplings. Under the given situation, it is required that sincere efforts are launched to increase the forest cover. This objective cannot be achieved merely on project basis. The government must also review its policy in a fresh manner.

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