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Gujarat leading in social forestry

While towns and cities of country turn into concrete jungle, Gujarat government has taken a unique initiative to boost the tree plantation in non-forest area to improve the ecology of the state. Since the year 2004, the state has embarked upon an ambitious drive with involving the people.

The state was first in the country to initiate social forestry activities in 1970. Subsequently, the tree activities have been intensified and new dimension to the programme has been given during the last decade. The Van Mahotsav celebration during the last decade has brought qualitative changes in greening Gujarat. Forest cover in Gujarat is less but it is a leading state in tree cover. Nationally, about 2.77 per cent of the geographical area is under tree cover but tree cover in Gujarat is over 4.0 per cent of geographical area according to Report of Forest Survey of India, Dehradun in 2011.

This year, 64th state level Van Mahotsav was celebrated at Nageshwar village of Dwarka in Jamnagar district where Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi opened 10th ‘Sanskritik Van’ for the people. The objective of establishing Sanskritik Vans or cultural forests is to increase active participation of the people and create awareness among them. The state Forest Department’s initiative is to not only create awareness among people but also involve them in tree plantation and protection. The concept of Sanskritik Van was introduced by Modi and senior officers from forest department drawing inspiration from scriptures like Vedas, Puranas, Upanishadas etc. These texts reflect the relation between human beings and trees. Such plantations are planned according to various Indian traditions like Navgraha Van, Nakashatra Van, Rashi Van, Panchvati, Trithankar, Saptarshi, Shriparni, Arogya Van etc. which have become popular amongst people of Gujarat.

According to Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Social Forestry), H S Singh, the Gujarat Forest Department manage a ‘Social Forestry Programme’ for planting trees on non-forest lands. The objectives were to increase the number of trees in Gujarat, promoting the participation of people and institutions to grow trees, make use of unproductive land to productive use apart from many other areas that called for attention towards sustainable growth.

According to the National Forest Policy 1988, one-third of the geographical area of the country should be maintained as forest and tree cover. As per State of Forest Report (2009), Gujarat has only 9.83 per cent of its geographical area declared as forest, which is much below the national average. Forest and tree cover is in the extent of 11.74 per cent (7.46 per cent forest cover and four per cent tree cover outside forest-TOF) of its geographical area. More than half of the population of the state resides in the rural areas, which is directly dependent on forest resources for their fuel-wood, fodder, small timber and other requirements.

Due to these reasons, regeneration, maintaining the productivity level and sustainability of the non-forest lands, particularly the common lands has become imperative for the state to meet the increasing rural needs. Promotion of tree planting on non forest land, through Social Forestry programme has, therefore, been considered to be the only answer to improve the green cover in Gujarat state. With this background, as early as 1969-1970, Gujarat Forest Department launched a ‘Social Forestry Programme’ for planting trees on non-forest lands.

The success story of Gujarat in the field of social forestry has been highly acclaimed. Tree cover outside forest- about 7,837 sq. km. (four per cent of geographical area against only 2.8 per cent in India) and tree density outside the forest area in Gujarat is the second highest among the states of India today, although major part of Gujarat falls in semi-arid and arid zones. In a follow through, the first national seminar on social forestry was organized in Gandhinagar in 1976. Later in February 2011, a second national seminar on social forestry was organised in the same city.

The number of trees outside the forest area increased from about 25.1 crores in 2003 to 26.9 crores in 2009 in the state. Tree cover or tree population has also improved by 19.2 per cent in a decade (2003-2013) and the total number of trees has increased from 25.10 crores (excluding Dangs) in the first counting in 2003 to 26.87 crores in second tree counting and then to 3014.14 crores in the third tree counting 2013.

Under the Gujarat CM Modi, the idea was conceived at Gandhinagar Van Mahotsava in 2004 and executed in shape of Punit Van. Thereafter, a total number of 10 Sanskritik Van were established in the state. It is also noteworthy that annual contribution of the Trees Outside Forest (TOF) in term of tangible benefit to the state economy is over 5,000 crore. The Gujarat model is becoming a replica for other states in social forestry.

 
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