14 Dec : Large areas of forests, 16.96 lakh hectares to be precise, in the country are under illegal possession, according to the latest data released by the Environment Ministry.Assam tops the list of encroachment with 3.49 lakh hectares of forest land under illegal possession followed by Andhra Pradesh (2.93 lakh hectares) and Madhya Pradesh (2.40 lakh hectares), the data said.
In the northeastern states, including Assam, a huge chunk of forest area, to the extent of 4.44 lakh hectares, is in the possession of mafia, besides tribals and forest dwellers.Among Union Territories, Delhi too is facing problems of illegal occupants who have encroached upon 200 hectares area of forest land, according to the data.
The extent of the encroachment exposes the states’ failure to protect the land from encroachers despite being equipped with several laws and Acts to evict and safeguard their forests, charged an official.
"Demarcation of forest areas by fixing areas of boundaries pillars, regular inspection by field staff and active involvement of local communities through Joint Forest Management Institution are all aimed at protection and management of forest resources," he said enlisting various steps taken by the government to safeguard the forest land.
The recorded forest area in the country is 769,626 sq km which forms 23.41 percent of the total geographic area.
Of this total area, forest cover is 677,088 sq km which is approximately 20.60 percent and tree cover is 91,663 sq km (2.79 %), said the official quoting figures from State of Forest Report (SFR) 2005