With the forest-rich Chhattisgarh losing its green cover to development activities, mining and encroachment, environment activists have voiced their concern against the forests being "sacrificed" in the name of growth.
An Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR)-2013 released recently by the Centre has revealed that forest cover in the state declined by 53 sq kms between 2011 and 2013. Development activities, mining and encroachment have been attributed as the reasons for it in the report.
"Both the Centre and state governments are not serious towards environment conservation and rampantly vanishing forests in Chhattisgarh in a quest of coal to feed their power plants. It is high time that the authorities wake up and make their stand clear to save the forest cover," social activist Ramesh Agrawal told PTI.
Chhattisgarh had 55,674 sq kms of area under forest cover in 2011 against its total geographical area of 1,35,191 sq kms, which reduced to 55,621 sq kms last year, as per the ISFR report of Forest Survey of India. The fall of 10 sq kms of Very Dense Forest (VDF) cover and 46 sq km of Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) cover was witnessed during this period, although, the open forest (OF) area recorded a growth of meagre 3 sq kms.
The maximum decline in forest cover of 19 sq kms was recorded in the insurgency-hit Bastar district followed by Durg (12 sq kms), Dantewada (10 sq kms), Kanker (9 sq kms), Kawardha (6 sq kms), Surguja and Bilaspur (5 sq kms), Korba (4 sq kms), Mahasamund, Raigarh and Rajnandgaon (2 sq kms), the report said.
The shrinking of 40 sq kms of forest cover alone was recorded in nine tribal-dominated districts of the state, spread in 92,656 sq kms of area.
The main reasons for the significant decrease in forest cover are "developmental activities, mining and encroachment of forest land, particularly in the districts affected with Left Wing Extremism," it said.
When contacted, Chhattisgarh's Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) AK Singh told PTI that amid increasing pressure of population and mining activities which are necessary for the industries, it is a remarkable task to maintain the forest cover.
"All these data are based on the figures provided by government agencies. A spot visit will show the real picture of the grave condition of the forests," said Agrawal, who recently got a prize for his contribution in environment, land and forest conservation in the state.
He stressed on the formation of a study team, comprising green activists, by the government to assess the capacity of every forest before it is marked for mining.
The Centre's "unconcern" towards environment has already been reflected in its recent Budget as no special provisions have been made for forest conservation, said Mansoor Khan, convener of Bilaspur-based NGO Nature Club.
"Illegal encroachment and mining in the forest land have led to the extinction of many rare animal species and destroyed the habitats of wild animals in the state. Governments should stop sacrificing forests in the name of so called development," Khan said.
Mining is underway in around 50 coal blocks of Hasdeo-Arand coalfields and Dharmjaigarh coalfields in the dense forests of Surguja division (north Chhattisgarh), which was once considered a heaven for the movement and habitation for wild elephants, he said.
More coal blocks have been identified for excavation there. It's not only a threat to environment but human beings are also bearing the brunt of displacement due to such uncontrolled mining, the activist said.
"The data is an eye-opener for the government as well people living in this ecosystem. Therefore, they should think over it seriously to safeguard the ecology, flora and fauna", Khan said.
According to PCCF's Singh, with around 42% of forest cover, Chhattisgarh is among densely forested states in the country. "Decrease in forest cover of 53 sq kms of area is a meagre change and it is also for the development activities in the state," he said.
"The forest department constantly conducts sapling plantation under its various afforestation programmes to boost the green cover in the state. As far as encroachment is concerned, the department has formed flying squads all over the state to check illegal possession of forest land which is working very well," he added.