India's ambitious target of bringing 33 per cent of its area under green cover is well out of reach given the size of the population and the pressure for development, union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh said on Sunday.
"This target is unrealistic in a country like India where the population is 1.2 billion and set to become 1.6 billion by 2040. With the population pressure in our country, with the development pressure in our country, to expect that suddenly India will grow the green cover from the present 21 per cent to 33 per cent is totally unrealistic," Jairam told the 'Green landscape summit 2011' organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry in Hyderabad.
Ramesh also pointed out that about 40 per cent of this 21 per cent of so-called Indian forest is open, degraded land, which means the sun is clearly visible above the green cover. In forests with good tree cover, it is not possible to see the sun except in glimpses.
Of course, the minister was not saying anything remarkable – environmentalists have long known that the actual forest cover in India is much less than the 21 per cent claimed officially; and even what remains is disappearing at a breathtaking speed.
Ramesh also said that the focus should be on improving the quality of the existing green cover, rather than trying to extend it. Here again he is in consonance with serious environmentalists focussed on sustainable development (as opposed to 'bleeding heart' activists who think all development is bad).
But again, Ramesh failed to say what steps the government would take to protect and improve the existing cover. ''Leave aside mega-projects, even a relatively minor road-widening project puts paid to large swathes of tree cover,'' says a senior WWF worker. ''What are the ministry and the government doing to prevent this kind of wanton destruction?''