The Japan Bank of International Co-operation (JBIC) signed an agreement with the Tamil Nadu government last week for providing assistance for the third phase of the Tamil Nadu Afforestation Project appreciating the performance of the State government in the first and second phases, said Forest Minister N. Selvaraj on Sunday.

Presiding over the Wildlife Week celebrations organised by the Forest Department at the Forestry Extension Centre at M.R. Palayam in Mannachanallur block, the Minister said that the Forest Department was now implementing the eight-year second phase of the afforestation project in the State till end of 2012-13, assisted by the JBIC at an outlay of Rs.567 crore to restore about 1.77 lakh ha of degraded forests in 800 villages, including 150 tribal villages in the State. He pointed out that about 4.80 lakh ha of degraded forests were restored in the State through the JBIC assistance in the first phase in 1997 at an outlay of Rs.583 crore.

Mr. Selvaraj said that the recent survey showed that the tiger population in the State had crossed 100, an increase of 25 per cent in the last few years.

He said that the preliminary work for establishing a zoological park at M.R. Palayam in Tiruchi district was progressing even though there was teething troubles. Transport Minister K.N. Nehru, who inaugurated the celebrations, stressed the need for protecting forests and appealed to the people to grow more trees and extend the forest cover in the State from the present 18 per cent to 33 per cent.

A.S. Balanathan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, said the government was taking all-out efforts to increase forest cover to one-third of the total area of the State.

T. Soundiah, Collector; R. Sundararaju, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden; Raja Muthian, Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Forest Plantation Corporation; and Seetha Ilangovan, chairperson of Mannachanallur panchayat union, also spoke.