Maharashtra lost 6,346 hectares or 63 sq km of forests to non-forestry purposes including mining, between 2014 and 2017, reveals data from the union environment ministry.
The forest land lost in the last three years is roughly equivalent to the area of Mumbai’s island city, which is 65 sq km (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation data).
At the same time, the country lost 62,369 hectares or 623 sq km forest area, roughly the area of six Sanjay Gandhi National Parks spread across 104 sq km.
Maharashtra ranked fourth in India for maximum forest land diverted, with 40 proposals sanctioned over three years. The data was submitted by Mahesh Sharma, minister of state, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change to the Lok Sabha last week.
“Non-forestry activities including mining have the potential to impact environment and ecological balance. Deforestation for mining may lead to soil erosion, water pollution, and may impact flora and fauna. However, sufficient care is taken to ensure minimum damage to wildlife and the forest ecosystem while granting forest clearances as per the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980,” read the statement laid at Lok Sabha by Sharma.
According to the data, 1,060.57 hectare of forest land was diverted for mining purpose over three years in the state. Officials from the state forest department told HT that forest areas had been diverted for the development of transmission lines, railways, national highways, irrigation projects, rehabilitation of villages from core forest areas to fringes.
“There have been very few mining projects approved by us over past three years. It is under the state government’s policy to allow only projects where mines have been dug up or licenses need to be renewed,” said Virendra Tiwari, chief conservator of forest (Mantralaya), state forest department.
According to the state forest department, Maharashtra’s forest cover is 56,645.96 sq km (56.6 lakh hectares).