Of the 26 districts in Gujarat, five saw a decline in forest cover in the past two years. But the good news is that overall, the state has managed to increase its forest cover by 47 sq km, according to the State of Forest Report 2017 released recently.
The report attributes the rise in forest cover to plantation both within and outside forest area as well as due to conservation and expansion of mangroves in the state.
A retired forest officer that DNA talked to said the rise in forest cover could be attributed to the aggressive social forestry initiatives of the state. He chose to remain anonymous as he had not yet studied the report.
He said it was laudable that the forest cover for the state had actually gone up. “Given the development pressure that forests face, even if the state had managed to maintain its forest cover, that too would have been laudable,”said the officer.
As for districts that saw a decline, he said there were plenty of factors. “From what you say, it seems that the highest decline has been in Narmada and Panchmahals. Both are tribal areas and it has been my observation that such areas (tribal) face a lot of pressure on forests,” said the officer.
Explaining the reason, he said since the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, many tribals had taken to land grabbing in forest areas, clearing it for farming.
“This is why tribal areas see most of the pressure on forests because once locals establish their rights for some years by farming they will be given the land,” said the officer.