Firewood Use Depletes Forests

Land cleared for Jhum, a type of shifting cult...

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IMPHAL: The Manipur forest department’s effort to conserve the green cover has been thwarted by the state’s dependence on firewood for cooking.

Statistics available at the state forest department said about 85.5 per cent of the total population of 24 lakh people of Manipur are dependent on firewood and charcoal collected from the forests for cooking at home and roadside eateries and tea stalls.

Only 6.66 per cent of the population use cooking gas at home, restaurants and fast food joints. The use of firewood in Manipur is much higher than the all-India average of 61.5 per cent.

Manipur has a forest cover of 17, 418 square km and of these 8 per cent is reserve forest area.

“Because of the massive felling of trees for furniture and firewood the forest cover is decreasing gradually. This has been derailing our efforts to conserve forest cover,” a senior official in the state forest department said.

The official said forests were cleared by hill people for jhum cultivation and vegetable farming.

Environmentalists pointed out that because of deforestation for firewood, timber, charcoal and expansion of villages the forest cover was decreasing annually.

“This has led to flood, drought and gradual rise in the temperature every year. The number of wetlands has come down and number of migratory birds visiting the state during the winter has also come down because of environmental changes caused by deforestation,” environmentalist R.K. Ranjan Singh said.

About two decades back, the temperature was about 28 to 30 degrees Celsius but last year the temperature rose to 36 degrees Celsius.

In the early 20th century, Manipur had about 500 wetlands. But today, even the few existing ones are on the verge of drying up because of climate change and human interference.

A recent survey conducted by the environment and ecology wing of the state forest department found that only 19 wetlands were left in the state.

The official said the forest department could not intervene into clearing of forests because of lack of manpower.

“We make all possible efforts but because of lack of adequate staff our efforts does not have much impact,” the official said.

The department put up proposals for recruitment of more staff like forest guards. But because of an existing ban on fresh recruitment, the proposal has not been considered by the government, sources said.

While the department officials are seeking more staff, environmentalists have demanded steps by the government on a war footing to check deforestation.

(Courtesy: Khelen Thokchom, Telegraph India)

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