When Yogi Government of Uttar Pradesh declared that it had set a record of planting over 22 crore seedlings in a day, the messages on the WhatsApp started coming thick and fast. One of the messages read:
22 crore saplings planted in a day;
The next day
80 per cent of them are destroyed by stray cattle
The reference was to the stray cattle menace in UP and scepticism over the government’s grand claims and the functioning style of the bureaucracy. Most people in the state believe that a lot of public money is wasted in such grand schemes. While bureaucrats may claim that 22 Crore seedlings were planted, who would account for it ? And even if an audit is held and the seedlings are found to be missing, it would be easy to apportion blame to the stray cattle for the missing plants.
The Horticulture wing can then blame the Animal Husbandry Department for squandering the money. After all even at the rate @five Rupees for each seedling, 22 Crore seedlings would cost a neat sum of Rs 110 Crore ; or at the rate of just two Rupees a seedling, a sum of Rupees 44 Crore.
The joke apart – there is a big question whether actually such a huge plantation has taken place or is it just the number which has been passed on to the media. Previously also many plantation drives have been carried out in Uttar Pradesh – both in Akhilesh and Yogi regime – but what has been the result no one knows.
Experts have now started questioning the Government claim. “Who is to verify the number of seedlings planted and their survival in the future? There is no third party verification. It is entirely the job of government agencies. They report, verify and monitor the survival of tree seedlings,” points out Jitendra Vir Sharma, director, Forest and Biodiversity at the Energy Research Institute, (TERI) New Delhi.
Questions are also being raised whether there were actually enough seedlings to match the claims. The forest officials in Uttar Pradesh claim that 22.70 crore seedlings have been procured from 1490 nurseries. Who has verified it? Is there a third party verification.? The answer is again a big no.
Sharma wrote in an environmental magazine: Seven Crore out of the 22 crore were to be planted by the UP Forest Department and 15 crore by farmers. There is a need, however, to have micro-planning at the village level — the names and title deeds of farmers who are willing to plant trees, along with their geo-coordinates must be noted. Only then is third party verification really possible.
“The big question is why would farmers go for tree plantation? Is there any Minimum Support Price (MSP) scheme to protect the interests of the farmer which would encourage them to grow trees ? The answer is no, currently no state has an MSP for tree crops,” he said adding that Governments must come up with MSP schemes for tree crops along with the strengthening of institutional mechanisms for procurement of timber from farmers.
In one of his Facebook posts Sharma said that UP Government had carried out a plantation drive on August 15, 2018. “However, due to lack of third party monitoring and maintenance, such large plantations turned to be a failure. To be able to draw out benefits from such drives, it is important that the government performs monitoring of these efforts through a process that involves a third party, or non-government agency. In the absence of such an exercise, such mega initiatives remain unsuccessful despite having large financial resources at their disposal,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh Government however claims that every seedling planted has a verified record.
The plantation was carried out in 1,430,381 places which include 60,000 villages and 83,000 sites in forest range. “The whole process is online. The pits are geo-tagged and the saplings carry a QR code. So we can record how many saplings are planted and where. Geo-tagging will also help in maintenance of the tree so that after a month or so we can know exactly how many trees have survived,” Government spokesman Awanish Awasthi said.
Awasthi said that teams have been formed from the village to the district level that will monitor progress of the plantation drive. A magistrate level office is made in-charge of five villages who will report to his senior and this way the report will reach Lucknow.
There is still the nagging question, why the plantation drive had to be completed on a single day. The process, one district at a time and spread over several days would have ensured better monitoring, transparency and accountability, say experts.