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'Money doesn't grow on trees; merge social forestry, forest depts'

The state’s political temperature is on the rise ahead of the impending winter session of the assembly. Training its guns at the Democratic Front (DF) government, Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) yesterday questioned the wisdom of having two separate ministries, in the form of the social forestry department and theforest department, and demanded that the two units be merged.

BJP MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar
Planting an idea: The letter written by BJP MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar suggesting merging of social forestry department and forest department

In his letter to chief secretary Jayant Kumar Banthiya, former BJP state president Sudhir Mungantiwar has observed that thesocial forestry department spent nearly Rs 50 crore in paying salaries of its employees for executing projects worth around Rs 5 crore last year.

“It is nothing but criminal wastage of taxpayers’ money. What is the requirement of a separate ministry of social forestry when there is a forest department? Other states across the country do not have such a separate ministry, and both the departments (social forestry and forest) work together,” he pointed out. The saffron party has alleged that the Congress-led state government essentially wanted two separate ministries only to accommodate one more leader in the cabinet.

Not only this. While speaking with MiD DAY, Mungantiwar lashed out at the DF government for its indifferent attitude towardsresolving the matter.

He said that he had raised the issue in the assembly earlier, and though the social forestry minister had promised to constitute a committee and make a budgetary provision of Rs 250 crore for massive plantations along state highways, nothing tangible has been done so far.

“Formation of committees and submission of reports are routine affairs of a government. But if the departments are not merged soon, the administration would fritter away a huge amount of money in the form of salaries, which could have been diverted for some other developmental projects,” Mungantiwar maintained.

Social forestry minister Nitin Raut, however, asserted that he would not allow joining of his department with the forest department. He added that the social forestry department was created to carry out irrigational and plantation work in the state, while the forest ministry focuses on protection and conservation of forests.

“It seems Mungantiwar lacks knowledge about the diverse functioning of the two departments. Instead of merging tem, I would like to strengthen the social forestry department by implementing new policies, based on a report submitted by Arun Bongirwar committee a few days ago.

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Deputy director of social forestry department Chandrakant Tambe is preparing a reply to Mungantiwar’s letter, which was transferred to his department by the forest ministry.¬†Tambe said the response would soon be sent to Mungantiwar, which would state that the social forestry department had generated tree consciousness among various groups, and it also provides technical guidance to various NGOs involved in forestation. “That’s what its (the department’s) real function is,” Tambe said. He added that the department worked as a motivator and not as an executor or implementer.¬†

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