Odisha, one of Indias most natural calamity-prone states, has diverted 62,016 hectares of forest land and 19.50 lakh trees have been cut down for non-forestry purposes till 2022.
This information was given by Forest, Environment and Climate Change Minister Pradip Kumar Amat during the recently concluded budget session of the Assembly.
As per the provisions made under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, a total of 62,016 hectares of forest land was diverted for different industrial and socio-economic developmental projects in Odisha till 2022. The forest areas were diverted after receiving the final nod from the Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change, Amat said.
Apart from this, the state government is waiting to divert another 888 hectares of forest land for execution of 107 different projects.
The highest 14,466 hectares of forest land was diverted in mineral rich Keonjhar district while 10,025 hectares of forest land was diverted in the tribal-dominated Sundergarh district, which also has a good number of mining projects.
Similarly, 6800 hectares of forest land in Angul district, 5045 hectares in Jajpur, 4529 hectares in Bolangir, 2735 hectares in Jharsuguda, 2676 hectares in Mayurbhanj, 2338 hectares in Koraput and 2167 hectares of forest land in Rayagada district were diverted for non-forestry purposes. These districts also have several big industries and mining projects.
The lowest 3 hectares of forest land was diverted in coastal Puri district while 18 hectares were diverted in Subarnapur district.
The state government has also cut down 19,50,686 trees for execution of industrial, mining and developmental projects in Odisha. The largest number, 4,44,592 trees were felled in Sundergarh district, followed by Jagatsinghpur district, where 2,98,906 trees were cut down for different projects.
Similarly, over 2 lakh trees fell in Keonjhar and Sambalpur districts while over 1 lakh trees were cut down in the districts of Nayagarh, Bolangir and Angul.
The Forest Minister also mentioned that the state government has carried out a compensatory afforestation programme in 75,278 hectares of land and planted 2,93,79,423 seedlings.
As per the report, 178 hectares of forest land has been diverted and 424 trees felled in Bhadrak district for non-forestry projects. However, the government is yet to plant a seedling in the district under compensatory afforestation.
In Kendrapara district too, the state is yet to carry out a plantation drive against diversion of 140 hectares of forest land and the felling of 322 trees.
As per a statement made by Union Minister of Coal, Mines and Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi in the Rajya Sabha on February 13 this year, 19,267.47 hectares of forest land was diverted for mining activities in the country in the past five years, of which the highest 7,928.62 hectares was diverted in Odisha.
During the period 2017-18 to 2021-22, 41 mining projects including 35 by private firms have been approved in Odisha.
Odisha has a forest area of 52,156 square kilometres, which is about 33.50 per cent of its total geographical area, according to India State of Forest Report 2021. However, 33,154 hectares of forest land is under encroachment.
"Maximum of the forest areas are destroyed for mining and industrial projects. We can implement developmental projects, no one is opposing it. But we have to think about the future generations and its impact on our environment. Is there a real need to exploit such a huge amount of our natural resources," said environmentalist Jayakrushna Panigrahi.
Though the state government is planting seedlings as compensatory afforestation, it cannot be treated as forest. Because the ecosystem, food chain, wildlife and other habitats affected due to degradation of forest cannot be compensated with new plantation, he said.
Panigrahi urged the government to come up with a long-term sustainable plan and policy programs to minimize the impact of such projects on the state's forests and environment.