The Goa Forest Department has been approving almost all applications for felling trees with an approval rate of 99.3%, data sourced by an NGO, Living Heritage Foundation, has revealed. As per the NGO, this has led to the felling of close to 89,000 trees in Goa. The NGO has moved the Bombay High Court at Goa which has directed the 'tree authorities' of the North and South Goa districts that are set up under the Goa Preservation of Trees Act, 1984 to file status reports regarding their functioning.
"Over a period of ten years, out of all the applications that were received for felling trees, 99.3% were approved and only 0.3% were rejected," the foundation found through RTI applications.
This, the NGO has said, is only the tip of the iceberg since trees are often felled without any permission, much less compensatory afforestation.
Several calls to officers at various levels of the state forest department went unanswered. Deputy Conservator of Forests, Jabestin A, responded but refrained from commenting on the matter.
According to data furnished by the NGO, between 2010 and 2019, the Forest Department received 4,041 applications for felling 88,978 trees. Out of the total 4,041 applications received, 2,537 were sanctioned and only 19 were rejected while the rest were kept pending.
"A ratio of sanctioned to rejected applications is 99.26% and only 0.74 were rejected. However, the act stipulates that if a tree officer fails to communicate his permission or refusal within a specified period, it shall be deemed to have been granted. If the 1,444 pending applications are taken to be deemed to be sanctioned then the sanctioned to rejected ratio would be further abysmal," NGO director Mohan Kumar said.
"Failure to effectively oversee replantation of trees that have been felled has led to a loss of tree cover to the state of Goa and its residents to the tune of over 77000 trees. They claim that over 13,000 trees have been replanted but no data on the survival of such planted trees is visible," the NGO said in its petition.
"The state of Goa and its residents have lost nearly 74,445 trees due to the dereliction of duties shown by the respondent," it added.
"As a result, Goa is rapidly losing its tree cover, which poses severe challenges in the present and future. Damages caused by the negative impact of non-implementation of environmental legislation enacted to protect the environment have to be seen not only beyond their face value in the present but future damages too need to be taken into account," the NGO said.
The NGO has also alleged that the Goa Tree Authority has not been meeting at all despite being mandated to do so at least once every three months. The tree authority, which is constituted under the Goa Preservation of Trees Act, is tasked with the preservation of trees, carrying out a census of trees, setting standards for plantation of trees, development and maintenance of nurseries, overseeing planting and transplanting, among other responsibilities,
"Between January 2010 and June 2019, the Tree Authority should have met at least 38 times as the tree act mandates it to meet at least once in every three months but going by the submissions, it seems that the Authority has been dormant, non-functioning and has failed to discharge its duties ever since its constitution in 1998," the NGO said in its petition before the High Court.
The State Forest Department has been given time till April 28 to file its reply.
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