Telangana sets green trend

S. Madhusudhana Rao

The fact that the world forest area has been declining with rapid industrialization and urbanization has been pointed out in several reports produced by international environment organizations. According to a 2012 study by US-based Earth Policy Institute, forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, or a little over 4 billion hectares. That is nearly 2 billion hectares less than the pre-industrial forest cover.

Deforestation was at its peak in the 1990s when on an average 16 million hectares of forest had vanished from the face of the earth. Interestingly, that decade coincided with more developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America embarking on industrialization and a spurt in population. However, either through massive plantation campaigns or natural process, the net loss of forest cover had been halved to 8.3 million hectares per year, according to the EPI report.

Silver lining, however, is the deforestation rate has come down now, thanks to global green drive and a series of climate talks aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The global net forest loss between 2000 and 2010 was put at 5.2 million hectares per year.

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S. Madhusudhana Rao

On this account, India has not fared badly. In fact, it has managed to stall depletion in forest cover moderately. According to Government of India’s biennial State of Forest Report 2013, forest area (mainly planted) had increased by 5,871 sq km since 2011.  The report put the total forest cover in the country at 69.79 million hectares or 21.23 per cent of the geographical area of the country. The tree cover was estimated to be 91,266 sq km or 9.13 million hectares, which was 2.78 per cent of the country’s geographical area. The total forest and tree cover was estimated at about 24 per cent. However, the country’s forest policy aims at 33% of the geographical area under forest and tree cover.

Viewed against this global and Indian background and efforts to increase tree and forest areas, Telangana’s green initiative, the biggest in the country so far, should be applauded.

With the launch of an ambitious plan called Haritha Haram on July 3, Telangana is poised to achieve the country’s forest policy goal. Conceived by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, it is one his flagship programmes aimed at spreading greenery both in rural and urban areas and increasing the forest cover. As many as 230 crore saplings are set to be planted across the state over a three-year period in stages. An important feature of the green drive is it covers both afforestations in notified forest areas and outside of them.

Haritha Haram envisages planting of 130 crore saplings outside the forests in all the ten districts of Telangana. In an unprecedented move, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) will see 10 crore saplings planted in the city and on its outskirts.

The Telangana government has chalked out elaborate plans from village to district level to implement the ambitious programme and raise the percentage of greenery from the present 24 to 33. That means when the crores of saplings planted take root and grow, one-third of the state’s geographical area is expected to be green. If we go by what the massive plantation project envisages, the state will turn into a nature lover’s paradise, say, by 2020. If the TRS government succeeds in achieving the targets by involving all sections of society, individuals, activists, corporations, etc. Telangana will become the first state in the country to achieve the national goal in the shortest possible time.

However, the grand scheme can falter on two fronts: Execution and natural problems such as lack of ground water, summer heat, scanty rainfall, etc. Planting millions of saplings across the state is only the first baby step before setting off on a long green journey. The fledgling plants have to be cared for and properly protected. Any human lapse or natural phenomenon can deal a blow to the scheme. Also, a massive campaign to educate the public on the need to grow and protect trees should be in place. It is common to see people in rural areas axing trees for their wood needs whereas in towns and cities trees are chopped off if they are found causing inconvenience to households or obstructing power and telephone lines.

Hyderabad scores badly on this count. The city has the dubious distinction of planting a lot of trees and axing them crudely for various purposes. In the ongoing transport projects and development works, trees are the first casualty. Even age-old trees are being chopped off.

When seen in this light, massive plantation in the metropolitan area is welcome. But, at the same time, stringent rules should be in force against green murderers. It’s worth following examples of some European countries where offenders have to pay not only hefty fines but also plant ten saplings in public places and take care of them for every tree felled down. Similarly, school children are encouraged to adopt trees in parks and open spaces. Simple but effective innovative ideas could change the public mindset and bring out their love for nature and trees.

At the same time, a clear message should go out that Haritha Haram is not just a government’s initiative to spread green cover but a people’s movement to protect themselves from the adverse effects of climate change. If Telangana succeeds, the project can well become a model for other states … and the world.

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