The Telangana government’s ambitious plan to expand the state’s green cover from the existing 24% to 33%, through a five-year program launched in 2015, may have taken off well but its implementation has faced serious challenges thus far.
The ‘Telanganaku Haritha Haram’ plan targeted planting around 2.3 billion trees.
Non-governmental organization Forum For Good Governance (FFCG) sought details of Eetha chettu (phoenix plant, a variety of the palm tree) seeds planted by the Prohibition Excise department from all the 31 districts since 2015 through a Right to Information (RTI) query.
Data shows that a good chunk of the saplings planted in all districts by the department have not survived. In many districts, the survival percentage of plants was less than half. For example, in Medak, Ranga Reddy, Warangal (urban), Suryapet and Gadwal district, only 45.88%, 60.01%, 31.69%, 48.75 % and 28.74% of the total saplings survived.
In fact, in what seems to be a goof-up in numbers in Nagarkurnool district, the number of saplings that survived were shown to be higher than what was planted.
According to the RTI data from Nagarkurnool district, out of the total 192,460 saplings planted, 138,954 (72.1%) have survived. In that, under the Achampet station’s inspection ledger, the planted saplings recorded were 500 and those that survived were 1,350.
The inspection was done by an official named K. Arun Kumar, on 10 August 2016.
“We are not against the Haritha Haram program, but there should be better implementation. Also, the inspections are not being done properly. One person cannot make so many field visits in just one day,” pointed out M. Padmanabh Reddy, a retired forest officer and secretary of FFCG.
He was referring to data which clearly showed that excise department officials had made as many as nine field visits, inspecting more than 1,000 saplings in a day. Reddy, speaking out of experience, said it is not possible.
When contacted, Rajat Kumar, secretary to government (Forest, Science and Technology), conceded that survival of the plantations are a challenge. A letter to that effect, to ensure that the saplings survive, had been sent from his office to all district collectors on 15 July.
“Some of the plants (with regard to the phoenix plant) however have higher mortality,” said Kumar. He added that the state government is working on the survival aspect as well, and has engaged many officers to monitor the whole process.
“In fact, we have also geo-tagged about 19 crore plants from what was planted over the last two years. And we are providing sturdier tree guards this time,” Kumar added. Since the programme’s start, about 475.3 million seedlings were planted during 2015-16 and 2016-17.
And in the current 2017-18 phase, about 8 million seeds have been planted. Out of the total target of 2.3 billion (seeds), 1.2 billion will be in non-forest areas, 100 million in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) area, and the rest 100 crore in the existing degraded forest areas of Telanagna.
The funds for the programme are also being utilized from both state and central government sources. “For example, one of them is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, through which we are hiring people as well. The total expense might be about Rs.1,500 crore so far,” said an official from the Telangana government, who is overseeing the programme.
A former Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APPCF), government of Telangana, also said that only 100 million seeds had been planted till last year out of the targeted 1 billion, citing lack of funds. This was corroborated by an official from the same department.