The desert State of Rajasthan proposes to settle for a modest target of achieving 20 per cent of its total land mass under forests against the 33 per cent envisaged in the National Forest Policy.

The figure may appear to be a major climb down but experts here are of the view that even this target would be a tall order considering the climatic and geographic conditions in the arid State with two-thirds of its area under the Great Indian Desert or the Thar Desert.

The draft of the first ever individual Forest Policy for Rajasthan, which acknowledges the ground realities of the forest cover in the State, suggests the “more realistic” 20 per cent area under forests keeping in mind the onerous task of bringing a large area under forests from now. Rajasthan is planning a separate forest policy, as advised by the National Forestry Commission for all the States, though the National Forest Policy-1988 which is applicable to all States and Union Territories.

“The draft policy is very State-specific. The State’s peculiar geographic conditions and the terrain, the weaknesses as well as the potential, made us reach this 20 per cent mark,” says Rajasthan’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Abhijeet Ghosh. “We want the vegetative cover in the State to reach 20 per cent though this would mean an additional area of 45,000 sq km,” he says.

“Although the National Forest Policy envisages at least one-third of the land under forests, inhospitable climate and edaphic conditions restrain the State to have a vegetal cover not more than 20 per cent of the geographical area of the State,” the draft policy asserts.

“The principal aim of the forest policy is environmental stability and ecological security. Through increasing vegetation the soil erosion is bound to be reduced. With the decrease of stratospheric temperature the possibility of rains will increase,” the draft observes.

At present only 9.5 per cent of Rajasthan’s geographical area is under forest cover. Even this is not the real position as satellite images show only 7.1 per cent of the total area of the State under forest. “The tropical thorn forest or the scrub jungles do not show up in the satellite pictures. Also in Rajasthan it is difficult to create green canopies in desert areas or in grasslands,” Dr. Ghosh observes.

The per capita forest area at 0.06 per cent is among the lowest in Rajasthan which occupies 10.04 per cent of the total land mass of the country. There is a huge gap between demand and supply of forest produces such as timber, firewood fodder and other non-timber forest produces in the State. Besides, the State has a huge livestock population—which accounts for 11 per cent in the country—that makes any effort at greening a difficult proposition.

The productivity of Indian forests is abysmally low compared to world standards. In the case of timber it is 0.7 cubic metres per hectare per year in India against a world average of 2.2 cubic metres. The Rajasthan forests are still worse.

Furthermore, in Rajasthan even the areas demarcated as forest, active green cover—dense and very dense—forests are only in 16,000 sq km. Of the remaining over 16,000 sq km, at least 50 per cent is fit for planting. That makes it only 8,000 sq km of land suitable for improvement.

“We have to look for land in the Indira Gandhi Canal Project area and in the catchment areas of dams. This way there is 10,000 sq km available with us for taking up immediately,” Dr. Ghosh notes. He thinks the concept of expanding the forest cover can be linked to the Gehlot Government’s ambitious greening programme, Harit Rajasthan.

“Harit (Green) Rajasthan alone needs Rs.17,000 crore while the programme for improving the forest cover can be linked with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS),” he points out.