Forest officials are busy raising saplings to grow them up to a height of six feet before the exit of summer and the onset of South West Monsoon for the ambitious project to plant 10 crore saplings in 1.43 lakh hectares land spread over 5,000 villages over the next five years.

Tall grown seedlings with tree guards will help protect them from stray cattle.

Forest officials said that the Tamil Nadu Bio-Diversity Conservation and Greening Project, envisaged at an outlay of Rs 84 crore, aims at having 10 crore trees by 2017.

As part of the project, the target for the current year is to have one crore saplings in 1,000 villages at a cost of Rs 15.16 crore.

Officials said 2012 ended with a 45 per cent deficit rainfall, resulting in standing paddy crops in the delta regions of Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Tirupur, Pudukottai and coconut crop in Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Namakkal and Karur bearing the brunt of the dry spell.

Conservative estimates put the extent of drought to 73 per cent in 23,625 sq km.

Officials have identified a number of species for the project including emblica officinalis (Nelli), gmelina arborea (Kumizh), bambuseae (Bamboo), peltophorum pterocarpum (Vaagai), vites negundo (Nochi) and azadirachta indica (Neem).

Plantation is expected to begin when summer exits and traces of South West monsoon begins so as to ensure a high survival rate, the officials said.

The planting of saplings will be done close to wetlands and bird sanctuaries such as Vellode near Erode, Vedanthagal, Vadavur, among others.

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