Over 57k hectares of forest land diverted in Odisha, says new report

Most of the forest land (28,409 hectares) was diverted for 186 mining projects

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Friday 04 June 2021

Odisha, one of India’s most natural calamity-prone states, has diverted 57,410 hectares of forest land for non-forestry purpose through March 31, 2020, according to the latest state government report.

According to the annual activity report-2019-20 of the erstwhile Forest and Environment Department (now Forest, Environment and Climate Change) published in March, 2021: 

  • Most of the forest land (28,409 hectares) was diverted for 186 mining projects
  • 10,652 ha for 84 irrigation projects
  • 4,405 ha  for for 29 industry projects
  • 4,339 ha for 70 transmission projects
  • 3,865 ha for four defence projects
  • 2,433 ha for 20 railway projects
  • 101 ha for exploratory drilling of minerals in forests
  • 846 ha for small public utility projects of the state government

Odisha has a forest area of 61,204.17 square kilometres, which is about 40 per cent of its total geographical area, according to state records. Forest Survey of India (FSI) in 2019, however, put the forest cover at 51, 619 sq km, about 33 per cent of the state’s geographical area. The forest cover increased by 274 sq km in two years since 2017, the FSI report had said.

As many as 18,500,748 trees were felled in the state between 2010-11 and 2020-21 for the widening of the different roads, Odisha’s forest and environment minister Bikram Keshari Arukh said at the state Assembly March 30, 2021.

During the same period, as many as 2,983,573 trees were planted under the afforestation programme to compensate for the loss of the green cover, he added.

The government has failed to follow its guidelines on compensatory plantation while cutting down the trees, said Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist. At least two and ten times of tree felled in the non-forest and forest areas, respectively, should have been grown by the agencies according to the guidelines, he added.

Diversion of the forest land for non-forest use and wanton cutting of trees for road-widening are one of the major causes of frequent natural calamities like floods, cyclones and droughts in the state, said SN Patra, president of the Odisha Environmental Society.

Diversion of the forest land has also hit the livelihood of the forest dwellers who depend on the minor forest produce and wildlife, said Sanjit Patnaik, director of South Orissa Voluntary Action, a Koraput-based non-profit. He urged the government to minimise the use of forest land for development to protect the environment.

The trees on the roadside could have been saved through translocation, said Sudhir Rout, founder of Aryabhatta Foundation, an organisation for plantation, protection and conservation of trees in Odisha.

The state has reduced the area allocated for non-forest use, a senior officer of forest, environment and climate change department. In 2016-17, the state only diverted 297.87 ha of forest to non-forest cover, he said. 

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