Kerala has lost 42,438 trees in public places in the last five years. These trees were axed between 2004 and 2009 after obtaining the permission of the district units of the Social Forestry wing of the Forest Department.
Kozhikode lost the most number of trees, 5,642, followed by Malappuram (5,212) and Kollam (5,169). According to the authorities, only 229 trees were lost in Idukki during the period.
The information on the loss of trees was released by the Assistant Forest Conservator (Social Forestry) of the Forest Department recently. Permission of the Assistant Conservator of the district concerned should be obtained before felling a tree. However, after issuing the permit, no verifications were carried out in most of the districts regarding the actual number of trees felled.
“The shortage of staff for follow-up and enforcement activities and absence of a legal framework for the protection of trees in non-forest areas have led to this situation,” said T.N. Manoharan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest.
No illegal felling
No instances of illegal felling have come to the notice of the authorities in most of the district and hence no cases were booked. Barring Idukki, no district in the State had an inventory of trees in public places and there were no programmes to carry out tree count.
According to the information provided by the Idukki officials, 1,045 trees were in public places in the district and five were illegally felled.
Two cases have also been registered in this connection.
Though the authorities insist that saplings 10 times the number of trees cut should be planted, there is no effective mechanism in most of the districts to ensure this.
There is also no system to check whether saplings have been planted.
“As there is no system to ensure the compensatory planting of saplings, cutting permission should be issued only after planting the saplings,” said M.K. Prasad, environmentalist.
A study by an NGO in Thiruvananthapuram revealed that adequate compensatory planting was not done there in place of the axed ones in the city.
The official figures need not reflect the reality and the State may have lost more number of trees, Prof. Prasad said. Malappuram district lost the most number of trees by way of illegal felling of 669 trees.
These trees were axed on the university campus, Kozhikode, earlier for facilitating the landing of a helicopter carrying the Indian President. No permission was issued for cutting these trees and action for illegal felling was initiated. One case was registered in the district, the authorities said.
The felling of trees has made the State exchequer rich by Rs.24.82 lakh and the amount was realised by way of sale value of trees. Ernakulam district, which lost 4,483 trees, earned the government Rs.10.65 lakh.