way from the topsy-turvy world of politics — considered to be Uttar Pradesh’s USP — and the hustle and bustle of rapid urbanisation with cities and mofussil towns being converted into concrete jungles, a unique environment friendly initiative is being undertaken to restore the environmental balance. Uttar Pradesh is now in the fast lane of developing “green lungs” in 61 districts, an exercise which essentially aims to increase the tree and forest cover on vast tracts of land.
In fact, the earlier concept of developing “green belts” is passé as the current government under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav endeavours to develop “green lungs” in a bid to maintain the ecological balance and arrest the decline in tree cover and enable the citizens to breathe freely.
Undivided Uttar Pradesh prided over its rich flora and fauna. But with the creation of Uttarakhand, the State suffered heavily in terms of tree and forest cover. The Indian Forest Survey Report of 2005 found U.P.’s forest and tree cover reduced to an abysmal 9.26 per cent of its total geographical area, or 22,330 sq km . While only 5.86 per cent of the State’s geographical area was under forests, the tree cover encompassed just 3.40 per cent. Post-2005, some measures were taken to restore the equation, most notably in the backward Bundelkhand region. However, the progress of these afforestation schemes was inevitably mired in controversies and the absence of inter-departmental coordination. According to information available in the Statistical Diary of Uttar Pradesh, 2012, in 2010-11, forests occupied 7 per cent of the State’s land area, thus showing only a marginal increase.
Now, a fresh start has been made and if the policy makers are to be believed, this massive exercise is listed as point number 203 in the Samajwadi Party Government’s development agenda. “Green lungs would be developed on 50 acres and 100 acres plots of land in 61 districts where seeds and saplings of different varieties of trees would be sown and planted,” said V.N. Garg, Principal Secretary, Forest. The ambitious nature of the project can be gauged from the fact that it is proposed to conduct the plantation exercise on 4,789 acres in the 61 districts where 1,100,575 saplings of different varieties like neem, sheesham, mango, acacia, tamarind, gulmohar, mahua, arjan and sirus will be planted. Land for planting the saplings has been identified. These would be planted along canals, railway tracks, land belonging to a sugar mill, gram samaj land and forest blocks.
In 15 districts, the plantation exercise will be undertaken on 100 acres with a target of planting 25,000 saplings each. Land measuring 62.50 acres has been identified in three districts — Barabanki (land belonging to Budhwal sugar mill), Rae Bareli (on the Ehari minor of Sharda Sahayak) and Moradabad (Lalapur Peepalsana gram samaj land), where 15,625 saplings are proposed to be planted. In the remaining 42 districts, the plantation would be done on 50 acres. In some districts like Sonbhadra and Chitrakoot, two plots of 50 acres each have been earmarked for the drive.
The Forest Department has ensured the involvement of the local people in the plantation campaign which is scheduled to conclude on August 15. The department is mulling the proposal to get the last sapling in each district either being planted by a public representative, or school children. The green lungs exercise entails an expenditure of Rs. 1,964.70 lakh.
An exception in terms of acreage, however, has been made for Fisher Forest in Etawah district where the Lion Safari and Breeding Centre project is fast coming up. “An area of 1,000 acres has been identified in the Fisher Forest where over a lakh saplings of different varieties would be planted,” Mr. Garg said. The 1,000 acres has been demarcated into 400 acres covered by the Lion Safari project and a buffer of 600 acres outside the project area.
Situated on the Etawah-Gwalior road, Fisher Forest, which owes its name to the former District Collector of Etawah, J.F. Fisher, is one of the oldest forest areas of the State. Originally a vast tract of ravenous land between the Yamuna and Chambal rivers, it was developed into a forest area solely by the efforts of Mr. Fisher, who in 1884, managed to secure about 1,146.07 hectares situated on the west of Etawah from zamindars . Afforestation work started the same year and seeds of babool, sheesham and neem were planted. By 1902, the area had developed into a jungle tract. But, over a period of time, the Fisher Forest lapsed into a state of decay. It covers an approximate area of 3,000 acres.
Under the “green lungs” drive, 153,200 saplings of neem, sheesham, red silk cotton, acacia and mango, among other varieties, will be planted in the forest to enhance its tree cover. Besides, seeds of some varieties would also be sown. A sum of Rs. 925.722 lakh has been allocated for developing the Fisher Forest. The Forest Department has claimed that it is for the first time in 25 years that plantation drive of this scale has been undertaken in Uttar Pradesh.
On February 18, a circular was issued by Chief Secretary Javed Usmani to all the Principal Secretaries and departmental heads which said that it is necessary that one-third area of the State is under forest and tree cover “in accordance with the guidelines of the National Forest Policy, 1998, and the State Forest Policy, 1998”. Accordingly, the departments were assigned targets of planting saplings. Overall, 43,940,000 saplings were proposed to be planted on 67,600 hectares.
In fact, ensuring environmental and ecological stability in the State are the main objectives of UP’s Forest Policy. The policy states that in the light of meeting these main objectives, utilisation of forests for economic gains become secondary.
Uttar Pradesh is set to develop “green lungs” in 61 districts to offset the State’s steadily declining tree and forest cover