To monitor the city's depleting green cover, the state forest department is for the first time in India using the barcode technology to survey and protect the trees in Maharashtra

With rampant deforestation gradually taking a toll on the green cover in the state, the state forest department plans to deal with the depletion with technological ingenuity. Soon, plastic tags --also known as barcodes - like the ones you find on products in supermarkets -- will be nailed to thousands of trees across Maharashtra.

Code green: Its satellite mapping process works by scanning bar codes
stamped onto trees with the help of a palmtop device. But trees sometimes
grow over the bar codes, making them difficult to find. 

The project, the first of its kind to be undertaken by any state in the country, will use a barcode system to keep track of the trees. The aim is to help authorities keep tabs on the location of different species, and also determine which ones are at risk of extinction.

"Our motive behind the initiative was to use the gift of technology to ease our work and help us monitor the green cover in the state. Our state will be one of the first to opt for such technology, which will barcode trees," said Dr Arvind Kumar Jha, additional principal chief conservator of forests.

"In the last few years, the green cover in the state has improved. With this system in place, we will understand the changes better. The computerised system is less prone to fraud than traditional paper records, and it carries live data which can help government in various other ways," added Jha.

The project comes not a moment too soon for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), with reports reportedly drawing attention to the inexorable depletion of the city's green lungs. Officials and environmentalists blame soaring urbanisation, blocking of natural corridors of animals, encroachment and misuse of the Tribal Act for the alarming trend.

"Barcoding will take place in phases. After we receive the list of trees that will be registered under sustainable development the trees will be barcoded accordingly. We have invited proposals from reputed consultants for the same, and soon we will float a tender for possible contractors for the barcoding work," said Jha.

Need of the hour
As per the India State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2009, the forest cover in the state is 50,650 square km, which is only 16.46 per cent of the state's geographic area.

"We can't wait for the ISFR reports as the surveys are conducted once in every three years. To be on the safe side, we need to have technologies in place which can help us study the vegetative cover easily," said Jha.
Besides this, the department is also planning to hire consultancy services, which will help study changes in forest cover and land use in forests.

Did you know?
The MMR has five sanctuaries - Sanjay Gandhi National Park (103 sq km) in the heart of the city extending up to Thane, Tungareshwar (85 sq km) on the fringes of Vasai-Virar, Phansad (77 sq km), Karnala (12 sq km) and Tansa (320 sq km). However, the rapid urbanisation of these areas is taking a toll on the forests.

8,739 sq km
The densely forested area in the state

20,834 sq km
Moderately forested area in the state

21,077 sq km
Open forest area in the state

How the barcode system works
Its satellite mapping process works by scanning bar codes stamped onto trees with the help of a palmtop device, creating an electronic paper trail that can pinpoint any trunk situated within a distance of 25 metres.