The Maharashtra government has plans to plant two crore trees in one day, and has begun the process of forming a “green army” for that. The government will undertake this measure as part of its ongoing “Green Maharashtra” campaign and to mark Agriculture Day and Forest Day on 1 July. It aims at increasing the state’s forest cover from the current 20% to 33%. But environmentalists have questioned the state government on the availability of water for the survival of even two lakh of the two crore plants.
“Where will so many saplings come from? The trees have to be watered and protected for the first five years. How is the government planning to protect these saplings and provide water to them?” asked Dayanand Stalin, a Mumbai-based environmentalist.
Lawyers and activists have also questioned the Maharashtra government’s seriousness about increasing the forest cover. They have said that the state government has been handing out blanket clearances to many development projects without applying its mind on the irreversible impact on environment.
“We want to strengthen the foundation of a green Maharashtra. That is the rationale behind undertaking the plan to plant two crore saplings in a single day,” Maharashtra Forests Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said.
Giving information about the plan, he said that the government aimed at including the people of the state in it. “It won’t be implemented only at the government’s level. The aim is to involve the people of the state. We are planning to device measures which will interest the people in this initiative, and will increase awareness about tree plantation,” he said.
The Maharashtra government has been holding consultations and meetings to decide on the species of plants which should be planted. A primary review meeting was recently held in which senior officials of the state administration were present.
“It is important to plan where these saplings should be planted and which saplings should be used. But more importantly, it is essential to take the responsibility of ensuring that the saplings survive. We want to involve people in this drive,” Mungantiwar said. He had announced the proposal in his budget speech for 2016-17. However, environmentalists have questioned the government’s seriousness about increasing the forest cover. “In Maharashtra, the current situation is worrying. The forest cover of Vidarbha is being shown, and projects are being established in western Maharashtra or Nashik or Mumbai. The fact is, apart from the Vidarbha area, no other area in Maharashtra has sufficient forest cover,” said lawyer and environmentalist Asim Sarode.
He pointed out lapses in the government’s commitment towards “Green Maharashtra”. “The Biodiversity Act came into being in 2002. But the state board wasn’t functioning for years. These boards have important responsibility of doing assessment of important species in the state and list the important trees, floral and faunal species so they can be protected and preserved. But this Board was established only after we filed a case in the National Green Tribunal,” he said.
Stalin said that the state government had felled over 10 lakh trees in the past two years alone. “To make every sapling grow, you need half lakh litres of water for six months, and protection of the saplings in inviolate areas. How is the state going to provide that?” he asked.