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Nitish chants eco mantra
- State plans to plant 3.5 crore more saplings in districts in a bid to promote conservation

Chief minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday pledged to increase the state’s forest cover from 9.79 per cent to 15 per cent of its total geographical area by 2017.

“We do not want development in the state at the cost of environment. We are launching Hariyali Mission, under which the green cover of the state would be increased to 15 per cent of the total geographical area by 2017. This would be achieved by exhaustive plantation activities. We will plant tress in forest areas, roadsides and on river and canal catchments among other places,” he said after inaugurating Hariyali Samagam, a function organised by the environment and forests department at SK Memorial Hall to promote environmental conservation by augmenting plantation activities.

The state’s geographical area is 94,163sqkm. If the government manages to achieve the target set by the chief minister, Bihar’s forest area would be around 14,124.45sqkm five years from now.

Hariyali Samagam was initially proposed to be held on World Environment Day (June 5) but was postponed by a day because of the chief minister’s Seva Yatra. More than 500 people, including field officers of the Bihar forests department and other states, environmental activists and experts from across the country, attended the event.

Kumar inaugurated Hariyali Samagam amid much fanfare in the presence of his deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi. Rural development minister Nitish Mishra, agriculture minister Narendra Singh and other senior officers of the forests department were also present.

Mangla Rai, an agriculture expert and agricultural advisor to the chief minister, said: “The state receives 1,024mm of rainfall during the monsoon but only 39 per cent of it is utilised for harvesting. Increased plantation activities will increase the carbon content and the capacity of the soil to retain water, which in turn would increase the percentage of rainwater used for harvesting.

“Fortunately, there is a huge potential for plantation activities in the state, including 2,000km of river catchments, 6,000km of canal embankment and 8,000km of roadsides in the rural areas where plantation activities can be done in plenty,” added Rai.

Rural development minister Nitish Mishra said his department planted 1,70,00,000 saplings during 2011-12 as part of 85,000 schemes under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. “In 2012-13, total 36,000km of roads would be constructed across the state and with an average of 160 trees per km, the department targets to plant another 3.5 crore saplings. Apart from increasing the green cover, such plantation activities would also provide employment opportunities to the rural population,” said Mishra.

Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said 25 crore saplings would be planted in the next five years. “The budget of the state forests and environment department was only Rs 2 crore in 2002. It has been increased to Rs 100 crore in 2012. Apart from the budget, we will also plant 25 crore saplings in the next five years,” said Modi.

Two softwares — Forest Land Diversion Monitoring and Online Consent Management and Monitoring System — were also launched at the programme by the forests department and Bihar State Pollution Control Board, respectively.