Though the Sharma committee appointed by the state government has identified a tropical green patch in Paitona, Salvador do Mundo, for protection, the forest department has allowed felling of some trees in the area, environmentalists alleged.
The revenue department also permitted conversion of a small part of the private forest for settlement, raising doubts in some quarters whether the process of identifying private forests will be completed fast enough to save the last green patches from rampaging development. The term of the Sharma committee identifying private forests in North Goa had lapsed in February 2012. Though it submitted its report with a list of survey numbers in mid-2012 to the government, the exercise remained incomplete. "The government did not provide surveyors and the list of private forest areas remains provisional," a source said.
A few months ago, both panels for north Goa and South Goa have been reconstituted and have commenced their work. But environmentalists are worried about the fate of areas of private forest.
The forest department has permitted felling of a few trees in a plot under survey no 138/5 behind Defence Colony recently.
Clearing of even a small patch can lead to changing status of forest land as canopy cover diminishes. "If the forest department itself permits cutting of trees in disputed areas, the nature of the land may well become 'non-forest'," said Reboni Saha, an activist.
"Only three trees out of 67 applied for, were allowed to be felled," the official said.
A contiguous patch of five hectares can be identified as a private forest if it has more than 75% of forest species of trees and a canopy cover of 40%. "But by cutting the trees, the canopy cover will be reduced and by allowing roads the contiguity goes," Saha said.
The official said the government has not accepted the panel's report on private forests. "Hence, tree felling in a non-forest area cannot be prevented," he said.
The report has been submitted to Bombay high court at Goa in connection with a writ petition. "The government has assured the court that no diversion of any land with a tree cover of more than 10% and one hectare above will be allowed till the petition is disposed off," environmental lawyer, Norma Alvarespointed out.
In another plot, on the south-eastern side of the Paitona valley, the work of connecting a mud road through an illegally cleared forest area continues, a Salvador do Mundo resident has alleged.
The resident complained to North Goa collector and other authorities, urging them to stop the unauthorized activity in survey no 135. A few labourers can be seen laying stones for a culvert over a seasonal stream to link both sides of the property. The property owner had allegedly cleared more than 50 trees in an almost two-acre thickly forested area in August, 2012.
"Now, he has started making a culvert for the road," the complaint stated. An offence had been booked against the owner under Forest Conservation Act, 1980. "A charge sheet is being filed against him and revenue department has been asked not withhold any conversion file," the official said. [TOI]