Sudhir Mungantiwar, minister for finance, planning and forests, unfurled the state’s grand vision to achieve 30 per cent tree cover. He discussed several aspects of the programme including the two crore tree plantation drive slated for today, with the Free Press Journal group during a recent visit to our editorial offices. Edited excerpts from the conversation.
Could you elaborate the idea behind the drive to plant two crore trees on July 1?
This is not just a government scheme or a drive. I’d like to call it a mission, which is going to start from July 1 but will not culminate on that day. This is the first phase of what we want to achieve in the long run. Our aim is to be able to plant 25 crore trees in 2019. This year we will plant two crore trees, next year we shall do three crore and for 2018 we are aiming to plant 10 crore trees. Maharashtra currently has a forest cover of 20 per cent.
We want to raise it up to the level of the prescribed average of 30 per cent. But, to be able to achieve that level we need to have 400 crore more trees than what we currently have. It is beyond any human effort to be able to do that at a one go. Hence, we decided to move systematically towards the goal. The forest dept grows around four crore saplings every year in its nurseries. We are currently trying to enhance the capacity to be able to meet the target.
From next month onwards, nurseries will be developed in all the villages from where well-developed saplings will be used for the tree plantation drive. That means we will start growing 50 crore saplings simultaneously.
Can you elaborate on this aspect of the preparations?
The idea is to be able to grow 50 crore saplings for the trees that are to be planted across the state in the next three years. From the next month onward, nurseries will be developed in all the villages from where well developed saplings will be used for the tree plantation drive. That means we will start growing 50 crore saplings simultaneously.
That would ensure that for the next years’ programme, we will have three crore one year old saplings, next year 10 crore two year old saplings. This way we will have more mature saplings available for plantation. Older the sapling, better the chance of their survival. These tree will be planted on forest and non- forest lands and peoples’ participation is vital in this. Our idea is to involve the people in every stage.
What is ‘Selfie With the tree’?
Regarding the tree plantation on July 1, we have everything registered with us. Plantation will take place at 65,674 sites across the state. Our database has all details like latitude/longitude coordinates of all these sites. That will enable anyone to be able to inspect these trees planted on July 1 at any point of time in future. We currently have over 5 crore saplings ready across various nurseries. As per the latest registration, 3,11,66,057 trees have been registered with the Forest Department and 3,05,50,604 pits are also ready.
Along with the Forest Department, 20 other government departments are participating in the drive and peoples’ spontaneous response is encouraging. To ensure participation, we came up with the idea of ‘selfie with the tree’. People can upload their selfies with the tree they planted on July 1, on www.mahaforest.gov.in/selfiewithtree.php or email it to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. The winners from a lucky draw will be able to visit a tiger sanctuary. They will also be given an award on World Tiger Day. For government employees a special concession has been granted till 1 pm on July 1. They can take part in the programme before 1 pm and will have to show their photograph with the planted sapling in their office.
What efforts being made to ensure survival of the trees, especially the first year’s plantation?
In the mass plantation drives it is generally considered to be around 70 percent. We are hoping to increase this to 80 per cent. We have given priority not only to planting trees, but also preserving and taking care of them. For preservation and maintenance of the 1.5 crore trees to be planted by the Forest Department, one family per 1000 trees would be provided with employment under the Employment Guarantee Scheme. Regarding the remaining 50 lakh saplings which would be planted by other government departments and public participation, it is expected that the related departments should take the responsibility for their preservation. Instructions in this regard have been given to them.
Is the government taking any policy initiatives in this regard?
As I said earlier, the mission won’t end on July 1. We have several things lined up for after July 1. We are thinking of bringing in things like ‘Tree Credit’, ‘SmritiVan’ and ‘VanYukta Shivar’ apart from bringing in certain changes in the current legislation to make it robust. The concept of Tree Credit is easy. People can plant trees to gain the tree credits, which they can later trade with say like industries, for which the credit points would be necessary to gain certain permissions. The ‘Smriti Van’ concept, where trees are planted in memory of dear ones, too is a familiar thing, while the ‘VanYukta Shivar’ program would focus various aspects of tree conservations just as ‘JalYukta Shivar’ encompases water and soil conservation programs.
We have made certain changes in the legislation and would have a few more to ensure trees are not killed easily. But, apart from all these, what we need most is the awareness, which is being achieved through this mission. One thing I stressed the most is that planting trees is not the responsibility of only the forest department. It is everybody’s responsibility. We have not spared even the people’s representatives. We can have legislation for them in the future, something like anybody who wants to contest election, needs to have at least a certain number of trees planted. We are also trying to form a green army of 10 lakh students from 89 thousand schools of the State.
All these efforts are good, but, where the land would come for such a huge plantation?
This is a good question. We have spoken of growing the forest cover of the state to 30 per cent. That comes out to be roughly one lakh square kilometre of land. We currently have a forest cover of 60,000 sq.km. This means we need to have 40,000 sq.km. more. For that we brought social forestry department under the forest department. Then I asked them to think of which land chunks they can bring under the forest cover, apart from the forest land. In the effort I met several of union ministers like the defence, the railways, who have huge land banks in the state. So, under the mission we shall make use of basically the government land under various departments.
You said that people’s response is very encouraging. Please tell us about that?
We have been trying to change the forest management to participative mode for a long time. We formed over 12,000 joint forest management committees in that direction. We also brought in Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Jan Van Yojana to enhance people’s participation. We have also prepared 99 schemes regarding marketing of minor forest produces that would be implemented with the participation from the people. We even appealed the corporate to come forward to increase the forest cover under their CSR schemes. All these efforts have paid dividends.
When we appealed people to participate in the tree plantation mission various groups came forward. Acharya Shri Shri Ravi Shankar invited me to Bangalore to discuss the details. They are participating in a huge way in this. Same is the case with Appasaheb Dharmadhikari’s followers. They have a huge followings and all are much disciplined. There are Jain groups, Sikh groups and many more. In all 22 huge community organizations would be participating in this mission to grow more trees. This shows that there is a tremendous awareness amongst the people.