GF report to SC indicates Tamnar agency tree planting has mostly failed

The Goa Foundation on 15th May 2024 submitted a report to the Supreme Court commissioned by it in respect of afforestation claimed to have been carried out by the Tamnar agency to compensate for the 2670 trees felled by it at Sangod village at Mollem around 2020.

It will be recalled that for accommodating its electrical substation at Sangod in connection with the Tamnar 400 kV High Tension Line from Dharwad to Xeldem, Tamnar obtained a license for felling the trees under the Goa Preservation of Trees Act when it was required to obtain prior clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The Goa Foundation had swiftly filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court against Tamnar and several forest department officers for the illegal mass slaughter of forest trees.

The Goa Forest Department in its defence attempted to file an affidavit to claim that 90% of the saplings since planted by the Tamnar agency to compensate for the mass felling had survived.

The Goa Foundation accordingly commissioned a site visit and study of three of the biggest plots claimed to have been planted by the Tamnar agency at Sangod and Usgao. It asked Farai Patel, an independent researcher and wildlife expert to head a team of 2 botanists and 4 ecologists to visit the 3 plots and submit a report.

The survey report – copy of which was shown to the Supreme Court shown on 14 May – reported some startling findings:

1. The first plot located at Usgao (Sy.No.244) was actually afforested by the forest department in the year April 2010!  The entire project using CAMPA funds turned out to be a total failure and there is no explanation why the same survey number – which actually belongs to the forest department – was handed over to Tamnar for afforestation a second time.  Tamnar claimed to have planted 4199 trees on the plot.  The survey report found more than 40% of the trees had died.  In fact, of the 4199 trees planted, the team was able to find only 752 dead and surviving saplings on the plot.

2. On the second major plot (Sy. No. 87 of Sangod), Tamnar claimed to have planted 2812 trees.  However the survey showed that Sy. No. 87 was also planted by the forest department in March 2011 and the plantation was also a failure. Tamnar was given the plot for reforestation in December 2022 for what appears to be a second try.  Of the 2812 trees, 662 both dead and alive saplings were found.  Most of them were not more than 1.2 m high after 3 years.

3. On Sy. No. 21 at Sangod – where the agency had felled 2670 trees –  the team examined the claim of GTPPL that it had planted 600 trees.  It could not locate more than 30 trees.  The entire site was now infested with a very large population of difficult-to-remove weeds (image at top).

The survey team established that the reasons for the failure of the plantation at Sy. No. 87 Sangod and Sy. No. 244 at Usgao was related to the fact that both sites were completely hostile for planting of trees as these are lateritic plateaus and traditionally host a different type of plants, mostly annual shrubs and herbaceous plants which are highly endemic to these plateaus.

This unique plateau (or sada) vegetation is biodiversity rich. Attempting to use these plateaus for planting trees was a wrong policy having no ecological sense since it attempted to replace the natural growing vegetation which could survive there with trees which would never thrive on this kind of soil.

Thus the report established that not only had Tamnar destroyed more than 2670 fully grown trees, but it had also destroyed hundreds of seedlings since these were planted in the wrong place. As far as reforestation of the original Sangod plot is concerned, we are still fairly close to achieving almost nothing.

A copy of the survey report is now being released to the media.

Based on the highlights of the survey report, the Supreme Court directed the forest department and GTTPL to produce a proper rehabilitation plan by 17th May, when the contempt petition is once again to be taken up.

In the meanwhile, the forest department has notified three plots, including Sangod Sy.No.21 as a reserved forest under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. This was done after Tamnar handed over possession of the plot, originally purchased by them from private parties for over Rs.8 crores, to the forest department. It also added two other adjacent plots, taking the total to 17 ha. The total forest diversion for the Tamnar project in Goa is nearly 80 ha.

The Goa Foundation has welcomed the notification of the land as a reserved forest. But there is still a long way to go, for both the forest department and the Tamnar agency, if they are to make up for the environmental damage the 400 kV HTL project is causing the state of Goa.

Claude Alvares