Wastelands: India

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Vijay Singh, March 7, 2018: The Times of India

District-wise breakup of wastelands in Maharashtra
From: Vijay Singh, March 7, 2018: The Times of India

Green Cover Will Rise To 37% From 20% Now: RTI Activist

In an effort to maintain at least 33% forest cover in the state in accordance with the national policy set by the ministry of environment and forests, an RTI activist and green researcher has suggested that all available wasteland in Maharashtra be clubbed along with forest land.

“At present, Maharashtra has just about 20% forest cover. Through RTI, I collected district-wise information of all existing wasteland in the state. This includes scrub land, saline and alkaline land, rocky and barren land, waterlogged land, ravines and sandy areas, among others. If all this wasteland is added to forest land in accordance with Section 3 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, then our total forest cover will increase to over 37%, which is good,” said activist Hemant Chhajed who has submitted his suggestions to the state forest department.

He said clubbing wasteland with forests will help safeguard it from encroachers and land sharks.

“In the past 30 years, Maharashtra has lost a massive 13,000 sq km of forest land based on the earlier forest surveys. There must be a strong political will and administrative eagerness to give priority to safeguard all our forests,” he said.

Based on the RTI information received from the state forest department, there is a total 53,489 sq km of wasteland in the total geographical area of 3,07,690 sq km in Maharashtra—or 17.4% of state land.

When TOI spoke to Nagpur-based principal chief conservator of forests S Bhagwan on the issue, he said, “I welcome the suggestion of adding wasteland to forest land so that the percentage of forest cover goes up. Right now, it is less than the ideal 33%.”

Environmentalist D Stalin of the NGO Vanashakti said, “Over the years, we have lost a significant chunk of forest cover to either infrastructural projects or for agricultural reasons or simply through land scams. A stronger law enforcement must be put in place to fully protect our forests.”

Navi Mumbai-based activist Anarjit Chauhan added, “The total strength of state forest personnel is weak. However, if forest officials willfully ignore encroachments and damage to forest property, that is criminal and must be addressed by the higher-ups.”

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