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Forest encroachments up 146% in a year, reveals govt data

In the northern region, largest chunk of forest under encroachment is in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Uttarakhand and Punjab

Forest encroachments up 146% in a year, reveals govt data

Forest encroachments in India are increasing at an alarming rate with government data indicating a whopping 146 per cent rise in a year. From 3,03,324.18 hectares in 2022, the encroachments have risen to 7,45,591 hectares in 2023.



Tribune News Service

Aksheev Thakur

New Delhi, December 9

Forest encroachments in India are increasing at an alarming rate with government data indicating a whopping 146 per cent rise in a year. From 3,03,324.18 hectares in 2022, the encroachments have risen to 7,45,591 hectares in 2023.

In the northern region, the largest chunk of forest under encroachment is in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Uttarakhand and Punjab.

Data shared by Union Environment Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey in Parliament this week shows that nationally, the highest encroachment is in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir.

Assam tops the chart with 3,40,748 hectares of forest land under encroachment in 2023, followed by Arunachal Pradesh at 53,450.43 hectares. The count in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh stands at 76,196, 54,173.28, 33,154.19 and 27,325.17 hectares, respectively.

In the region, Jammu and Kashmir saw the highest encroachment of 19,809.65 hectares, followed by 11,814.47 hectares in Uttarakhand and 10,312.98 hectares in Punjab. In Ladakh, only 1 hectare is under encroachment.

In year-wise analysis from 2022 to 2023, Karnataka reported the highest rise of 186 per cent. In the region, Jammu and Kashmir saw a rise of 20 per cent, Punjab 14 per cent and Uttarakhand 10.94 per cent.

An Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer said though the department had legally challenged encroachments, cases lingered in courts for years and till the final verdict was out, the encroachers couldn’t be evicted. “State forest departments have been directed by the environment ministry to remove encroachments and recover forest land. Encroachments usually are in the form of illegal homestays, roads, buildings and agricultural fields,” he said.

In Karnataka’s BRT Tiger Reserve, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2022 flagged the construction of nine illegal resorts to the state forest department.

On December 7, the ministry said in Parliament that in the last five years, 90,001 hectares of the forest land had been diverted for non-forestry purposes. Irrigation, mining, road construction and defence projects were the major sectors for which forest land was diverted.

BK Singh, a former IFS officer said, “Forest areas closer to cities are susceptible to encroachment. Realtors have built houses on it and people have been living there for decades. Even if activists file public interest litigations (PIL) and the matter goes to court, finality is reached in only a handful of cases. Urban centres need lungs and all the forest land available should be covered with trees. We need oxygen to breathe,” he said.

The decrease in forest cover has been blamed for rise in human-animal conflict, zoonotic diseases and reduction in carbon sink. Reiterating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s launch of ‘Green Credits’ initiative aimed at creating carbon sinks, Singh said afforestation of degraded forest areas was a must to create carbon sinks. A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.

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