Despite ban, nurseries full of exotic plants

By Times Of India on 05 May 2018 | read
Nagpur: Even as the state government has directed the forest department to stop plantation of foreign (exotic) species, many of the nurseries in the state have huge stock of such saplings to be planted during the 13-crore plantation drive in monsoon.
On March 9, PCCF (social forestry) Anurag Choudhary had asked forest officials to stop developing exotic seedlings and focus on shadowy trees and native species. Choudhary was not available for comments.

Despite clear-cut directions, during a survey of some nurseries with territorial and social forestry department in Nagpur district, TOI found huge stock of seedlings of foreign species. These included peltrafarm, nilgiri, raintree, saptaparni, shishu among others.

In the social forestry department (SFD) and territorial forest nurseries in Nagpur, there are at least 51 lakh saplings. However, almost over 50% were exotic while other seedlings included bamboo, neem and teak. Many saplings like banyan and pipal were small in size.

“Exotic species have little ecological value. Birds and mammals don’t consume flowers and fruits of these trees. In Gondia, where large-scale foreign species were planted in the last three years, I’ve found that even birds don’t make nests on these trees,” said collector Abhimanyu Kale.

During a review meeting on April 12 on pre-plantation works for 13 crore saplings to be planted in the state between July 1 and 31, Kale, who is also an environment lover, had apprised forest secretary Vikas Kharge to plant at least 10% fruit-bearing trees. These trees include that of sitafal, anjir, umbar, hadga, papaya, guava, banyan, and pipal in forest areas so that animals do not turn to villages for food and engage in conflict.

However, TOI found that fruit-bearing seedlings were in minority in the forest nurseries. Deputy director of SFD Mohan Dhere said, “The exotic saplings in the nurseries might be old stock. We have to keep them following demand by certain sections. This year, the entire focus is on growing native species.”

Dhere agreed that in the past, many foreign species were planted but “we are learning from our mistakes and improving”.

During a meeting with chief ministers’ office (CMO) over Navegaon lake beach issue last month, Kale raised planting of exotic species by the forest department on a largescale in Gondia. The CMO ordered disciplinary action against officials involved in planting foreign species.

Kale also suggested to make planting of at least 40% fruit-bearing trees in FDCM areas mandatory where there is wildlife to curb conflict.

Plantation expert and ex-deputy director of SFD Pradeep Kottewar agrees that foreign species have little ecological value. “Exotic saplings like saptaparni, nilgiri, and peltrafarm are planted on roadsides because these grow fast. Moreover, animals don’t eat them. Species like banyan and pipal are slow growing and hence, not preferred,” he said.

“When it comes to showing vegetation or survival of plantations, foreign species are best to score brownie points for officials. Some of these species revive during rains even after being dead,” said green activist Shrikant Deshpande.

Kale said even the draft National Forest Policy has made mandatory to promote locally appropriate species for soil health management and effective water retention.

Raveena roped in to promote drive

Forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has roped in Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon to promote the 50-crore plantation programme of the forest department. The actress had detailed discussions with minister on April 16 in Mumbai. She shared some interesting ideas about promotion of mangroves, plantation drives and Green Army initiative. According to Mungantiwar, the actress is keen to be part of wildlife conservation in Tadoba, besides working with urban schools, colleges and other private bodies to create awareness for wildlife and forest.