A whopping 18.5 million trees have been felled for widening of roads whereas the loss has been compensated with the planing of only 2.9 million trees in Odisha in the past decade.
The astronomical tree felling numbers came to light when Odisha Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Keshari Arukha on Tuesday furnished a reply in the State Assembly to a query on how many trees had been felled in road expansion projects.
As per the guidelines, two times of trees felled in non-forest areas ought to be planted, while 10 times of trees felled in forested areas are required to be grown by user agencies through Odisha Forest Development Corporation.
Instead of meeting the huge plantation targets, far fewer numbers of trees were planted to compensate for the loss of tree cover.
Mr. Arukha stated: “From 2010-11 to 2020-21, a total of 1,85,00,748 trees have been felled for the widening of roads in Odisha. Till now, 29,83,573 trees have been planted at an estimated cost of ₹66.17 crore under afforestation programme to compensate the loss of green cover.”
“Minimum numbers of trees are cut down for widening of roads. User agencies apply for forest diversions under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Under road expansions, avenue plantations are generally taken up,” said he said.
According to the information presented in the Assembly, more trees were planted than felled only in three financial years — 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2013-14 — in past 10 years.
In 2015-16, a whopping 62.03 lakh trees were chopped whereas only 2.84 lakh trees could be planted. In 2019-20, as many as 26.77 lakhs trees were cut down while only 59,631 trees were planted to compensate the loss.
Environmentalists criticise the State government for not taking compensatory afforestation seriously.
“The translocation of grown trees should be given first priority than compensatory afforestation. If we are able to translocate a tree and it survives, it will immediately compensate the loss. The new plantation will take years to offset the environmental loss,” said environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty.
Mr. Mohanty pointed out that user agencies had been facing a problem in identifying vacant areas for taking up compensatory afforestation programmes. The government must come up with detailed mapping of the remaining vacant space for plantation, he said.