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3,085 sq km State forest cover lost in 28 years

By R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, Dec 20 - At a time when climate change has become a global issue with more than 190 countries including India signing a historic pact to deal with the problem, alarming decrease of forest cover in Assam has become a major cause of concern as the State lost more than three thousand square kilometres of forest cover in the past 28 years.

Successive reports of the Forest Survey of India pointed out the alarming picture of decrease of forest cover in Assam over the years. According to the first such report published in 1987, the forest cover in Assam was 30,708 square kilometres, but the latest report , released recently, revealed that the forest cover in the State came down to 27,623 square kilometres. This means, Assam lost 3,085 square kilometres of forest cover in a span of 28 years. In fact, the State lost 48 square kilometres of forest cover in the last couple of years. Interestingly, the State is fast losing forest cover at a time when there is a ban imposed by the Supreme Court on felling of trees in the entire North East region.

Commenting on the phenomenon, official sources admitted that large scale encroachment of the forests is a major cause of concern for the state. With growth of population, forests of the State are gradually encroached and because of lack of public support, it has become difficult for the Government to evict the encroachers. More often than not, eviction becomes a political issue with different organizations launching movements to oppose such drives by the Government.

Sources said that shortage of manpower in the Forest Department is another problem and a proposal is mooted to raise the third battalion of the Assam Forest Protection Force, which would lead to increase of the strength of the force by around 1500 personnel. The Government has also set up a high level committee headed by the Chief Secretary to deal with climate change issues.

Official sources said that large scale encroachments along the inter-state border areas is also a matter of serious concern and to deal with the issue, the State Government has started the process of setting up new camps of the Forest Department personnel.

Construction of four lane highways also led to felling of trees all along the National Highways, while, erosion has also resulted in decrease of forest cover in parts of the State.

Though the Forest Department launches plantation drives from time to time, very rarely efforts are made to ensure that such drives yield the desired results. Sources said that as per the rules, 25 percent mortality rate of the saplings is accepted. But the beat officers should send weekly reports of the status of the saplings planted after every plantation drive to the range officers, who in turn, should report to the DFO monthly. The DFOs should send quarterly report to the headquarters. But sources admitted that the rules are not strictly followed.

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