Haritha Haram Flops

Hopes of a greener Hyderabad have grown bleaker as the state government's much-hyped attempt to restore the green cover in the city, through the Haritha Haram project, appears to have been an exercise in futility. The Haritha Haram project was launched in July last year with an aim to plant over 230 crore saplings across the state in a period of four years. However, even as officials of the forest department planned to kick off the second phase of the project in July this year with a fresh batch of 27.62 crore seedlings, nearly 18.67 crore seedlings from last year's total 39 crore, lie unused in over 4,321 state government-run nurseries across Telangana.
While officials squarely pass the blame on to `unfavourable climatic conditions' and `deficit rainfall', environmentalists and botanists cite the lack of a scientific approach towards afforestation as the reason behind the massive green drive's failure.
“Due to deficit rainfall, unfavourable climatic conditions and a few other environmental variables that are out of our control, the project implementation was affected last year. We weren't able to achieve the targets we had set,“ said A K Srivastava, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life) & Chief Wild Life Warden.
Wildlife activist Imran Siddiqui, however, rubbished this claim. “In Telangana, an average of 1,000 trees are cut in a single day to make way for development projects. In this situation, afforestation drives are the only way to ensure that the city is not left a barren, concrete jungle.However, all plantation drives initiated by the state government, and the Haritha Haram in particular, have fallen flat because the forest department does not rely on the expertise of a scientific advisory committee before kicking off such projects.Instead of planting endemic species (peepal and banyan) that are unique to the Deccan plateau region, the forest department has chosen to plant fast-growing exotic species along avenues and inside forests,“ said Siddiqui.
Botanist and environmentalist E Narasimha Murthy, meanwhile, pointed out that many of the trees planted along avenues, on the sides of roads and streets, as part of the Haritha Haram project, were in fact causing more harm than good.
“The forest department officials are all administrators and lack the expertise required in order to adopt a holistic approach to plantation drives. While officials have chosen to plant species such as peltophorum and gulmohar along roadsides because these are fast-growing varieties of trees, they have completely ignored the fact that these trees have shallow root-penetration and are prime victims of strong winds. This is why even a short spell of rain causes many trees across the city to be uprooted,“ said Murthy .
Experts also rue that the green project, under which saplings were to be planted in `degraded forest lands' -in addition to roadsides and community-owned lands in villages and urban areas -has in fact `bulldozed' many national parks and directly interfered with the habitats of many terrestrial animals which seek shelter among wild plants.
“In the Ramagundam area of Karimnagar, for instance, forest department officials have cleared a large expanse of shrubs and wild plants which are the habitat of many reptiles and other terrestrial animals, in order to cultivate horticultural plant species as part of the Haritha Haram project. Also, instead of kicking off the project in the hot summer months and later giving up midway , the state government must at least wait till September and form a proper plan to carry out plantations and ensure that saplings survive,“ said Murthy .
Environmentalist Capt Rama Rao, meanwhile, pointed out that the Haritha Haram project was merely the latest in a string of similar plantation drives undertaken by state government that have petered out over time. “If at least 25 per cent of the saplings that were planted by the state government over the last 25 years had survived, Hyderabad could now boast a lush green cover,“ said Rao, while adding that there was a need to make plantation drives more `people-centric' in order for them to be deemed sustainable.

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