Praful Chander Nagpal
Fazilka, June 2
Senior officials of the state forest department, including forest minister Tikshan Soon, in repeated statements have expressed inability of the department to plant more saplings and to bring more area under afforestation in Punjab on the plea that there is no sufficient space available for planting the saplings.
This is despite the fact that lakhs of trees are axed every year for widening the roads and raising buildings at different places.
The department, however, has been unable to make up the loss by planting more trees on other vacant areas.
Surprisingly, there are reports that funds worth crores of rupees earmarked for the purpose of afforestation are stated to be lying in surplus. This fact had already been highlighted in The Tribune on April 12.
Despite the situation and ever decreasing green belt, there is some ray of hope for enhancing the area under afforestation. As per information, vast vacant space is available in border areas of Fazilka where lakhs of saplings could be planted and thus the forest department could bring more area under forest cover.
An 18.5 kilometer vast stretch which is about 100 feet wide, situated on eastern bank of Aspal seepage drain (popularly known as Ditch drain) is lying vacant for last about 10 years. This area came into existence when the Aspal drain was dug out in 2000.
The 18.5 kilometer long and 100 feet wide track starts from village Sabuana and ends at creek of Sutlej river near village Dilawar Bhaini. The agriculture experts consider this area to be fertile and suitable for afforestation.
It seems that the forest department has turned a blind eyes despite the fact that the area is quite in knowledge of the forest department, no efforts has been made to convert it into a green belt or for the purposes of bringing the area under afforestation.
Forest department officials on condition of anonymity revealed that more than 2 lakh saplings could be planted on this 18.5 kilometer long stretch.
"The department is aware of the area and it would start plantation from July onwards. In first phase, 10,000 sapling would be planted," confirmed district forest officer Mahavir Singh.
He said the department has asked the canal department to put pillars on the boundary along this stretch so that the farmers who are cultivating their land adjacent to stretch, may not encroach upon.
"We are ready to extend co-operation to the forest department for leveling the proposed land from our own resources," said one farmer Jagtar Singh, whose land is situated adjacent the vacant track in village Karnikhera.
On the other hand, progressive farmer Surinder Kumar Ahuja through the Right to Information Act has sought information from finance commissioner-cum-secretary Forest and Wild Life, Punjab and principal chief conservator forest, Punjab on April 16, 2010 that a vast track on the bank of Aspal drain is available with the department and what were the constraints that prevented their department from planting trees.
However, even after the lapse of the mandatory one month, Ahuja has not received any reply from both the authorities. "I am thinking of filing complaint before the Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab as the authorities are dilly delaying and matter," asserted Ahuja.