In line with the recommendations of the Forest Commission led by retired IAS officer, P.V. Rajaraman, the State Government is embarking on an ambitious programme to renew the forest cover in the State, said N. Selvaraj, Minister for Forests on Thursday.

The Minister, accompanied by the Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore Circle, R. Kannan and District Forest Officer, I. Anwardeen, visited Devayampalayam and Pudhupudur at Periyanaickenpalayam area to review the ongoing scheme Tree Cultivation in Private Lands (TCPL). The project is aimed at increasing the planting of saplings outside the forests to achieve 33 per cent green cover.

Talking to reporters after visiting the project sites, Mr. Selvaraj said that the Rajaraman Commission had submitted its report on September 21, 2009 in which it had quoted the Forest Survey report of 2005 and had pointed out that 12,30,000 hectares of forest in Tamil Nadu stand degraded due to many reasons including felling of trees.

Under the first phase of afforestation drive, the Government had planted saplings in 6,50,000 hectares for reviving the degraded forests. A blanket ban had been imposed on cutting of trees inside the forest areas. Even transportation of wooden logs from the State to other States (irrespective of whether the trees were fell inside the forests or outsides the forests) had been banned. Measures were being taken to protect the existing trees and to renew the degraded forests besides enhancing the green cover.

Mr. Selvaraj said that 3,70,000 saplings were being raised at nurseries in Coimbatore for planting them in Coimbatore and the Nilgiris districts and these saplings would be used for planting in lands outside the forests as well. Teak and ‘vembu’ saplings were being given to the farmers for growing trees outside the forests.

Later, the Minister visited the eco-tourism works implemented by the Forest Department at Chadivayal, near Kovai Coutrallam.

Mr. Selvaraj said that four rest houses had been constructed for the tourists at an outlay of Rs. 63 lakh and a tree top rest house had been constructed for the nature lovers.

In addition, elevated canopy walkway, watch towers, dining place, resting places have been created for the benefit of tourists. This would also help the tribals in their economic emancipation.

Mr. Selvaraj said that such eco-tourism initiatives are being pursued in Udhagamandalam, Mudumalai, Top Slip near Pollachi. With regard to man – animal conflict i.e., straying of wild elephants, the Minister said that besides erecting solar electric fencing even elephant proof trenches were being dug up.

Farmers were being sensitised to change their cropping pattern by avoiding crops such as plantain, maize and sugarcane. Consistent efforts were being taken to improve the habitats in terms of water and fodder availability to prevent straying or migration of elephants in search of food and water.

The Government with the help of the Centre had embarked on a programme to acquire patta lands along the fringe areas of the forest to connect the missing link in elephant migratory corridors. At five places, 400 acres had been identified for acquisition to link the migratory corridors and in the first phase the Government had allocated Rs. 2.65 crore for acquisition 62.5 acres. Such measures would mitigate the man-animal conflicts, he said.