New data submitted in the Rajya Sabha by the Union environment ministry has revealed that Maharashtra has lost forest area that is bigger than the size of Mumbai. The state ranks 5th in the list of states that have lost forest area to encroachments. Of 61,579 square kilometre (sq km) of forest area, encroachers have destroyed close to 670 sq km, which is more than the size of Greater Mumbai (603 sq km).
There are 33,850 and 49,463 cases of encroachments in Mumbai and Thane respectively. The two districts combined have the most number of encroachment cases in Maharashtra. Area wise, Thane and Mumbai have encroachments spread across 973 hectares and 6,170 hectares respectively.
However, Dhule recorded the maximum encroached area with 15,076 cases spread across 207 sqkm and Gadchiroli came in second with 8,969 cases spread across 103 sq km. According to data from Maharashtra’s forest department, most encroachment cases came from Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
In ascending order of area of encroached lands, Madhya Pradesh came first, followed by Assam, Karnataka and Odisha and Maharashtra. Nationally, encroachments cover 13,612sq km of nearly 7,64,000-lakh sq km forest cover, which is 23% of the forest cover.
“Our idea has always been zero tolerance to encroachment. However, we are facing three main concerns when it comes to this issue in Maharashtra – increasing agricultural practices by tribal settlements, construction of religious structures, and increasing urbanisation near tier I and II cities,” Shailesh Tembhurnikar, additional principal chief conservator of forest (conservation), Maharashtra forest department, in-charge of encroachment removal in the state told Hindustan Times
“This is not only eating into the habitat of animals but changing the natural biodiversity of forests,” he added.
Growing encroachments around Sanjay Gandhi National Park will be checked as a wall is soon going to be built around the area. “We are in the process of building a stronger network not only to remove encroachments, but also to fight wildlife crimes,” Ravi Singh, secretary general and CEO of World Wildlife Fund told Hindustan Times.