Mumbai: The forest department of Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government has instituted an inquiry to verify claims made by the previous BJP government that 50 crore trees had been planted across the state at an estimated cost of Rs 3,000 crore.
The forest department is now with the Shiv Sena, which was part of the BJP-led Devendra Fadnavis government in the state.
In 2016, the Fadnavis government had launched the Harit Maharashtra (Green Maharashtra) afforestation drive, spread over four years, to plant 50 crore saplings. Then forest minister, BJP’s Sudhir Mungantiwar, had undertaken the project to replenish the depleting forest cover across the state. Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan was the brand ambassador for the drive.
Partnering the Maha Vikas Aghadi government with the Congress and the NCP now, the Shiv Sena has decided to use satellite imagery to probe where the 50 crore trees were planted.
Minister for Forests Sanjay Rathod told the media Wednesday that the decision was taken following complaints received from some former and incumbent ministers, expressing doubts on the actual number of trees that were planted.
“I had received many complaints from ministers and others that 50 crore trees have not been planted,” Rathod told the media at an event. “We will use satellite imagery to verify the claims made. The government also wants to find out how much money has been spent to plant these trees.”
Mungantiwar welcomed the probe, but sought a white paper on it. “Conduct the probe by all means. But let it be done by a retired High Court judge. This government must release a white paper after the probe to clear all the issues.”
He added, “The National Forest Survey has noted that the forest cover in Maharashtra has improved significantly due to this drive. Thirty-two departments and many municipal bodies were involved in making this project a big success.”
What the probe will look at
According to the Fadnavis government’s statistics, 2.82 crore saplings were planted in the first year of the drive against a target of 2 crore. In 2017, a total of 5.17 crore saplings were planted against a target of 4 crore. In 2018, a total of 15.17 crore saplings were planted against a goal of 13 crore.
However, in the fourth and last phase of the project in 2019 — the last year of the Fadnavis government — about 33 crore saplings were planted in three months through July to September. Fadnavis had launched the final phase of the drive from Baba Amte’s Anandwan in Chandrapur district.
While the drive was ongoing, the Fadnavis government had roped in several celebrities to help attain the goals. The Films Division (under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) had made a two-minute audio-visual item incorporating appeals of the then Maharashtra governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, Fadnavis, Sudhir Mungantiwar and Amitabh Bachchan.
In August last year, veteran actor Sayaji Shinde criticised the drive and called it an “eye-wash”. He reiterated his allegation during interviews to TV channels Wednesday.
Sanjay Rathod has now directed Principal Secretary (Forests) Vikas Kharge to probe the numbers and also find out the actual status of the saplings that were planted then, and whether they have grown into trees.
The latest move came after Maharashtra Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation Vijay Wadettiwar wrote to the forest minister demanding a probe into the plantation drive.