New Delhi: Encroachment ate away a substantial share of the country's green cover in the past 20 years, if one goes by official figures over one-third of total forest land diverted was for regularisation of illegal holdings.

"Encroachment of forest land for cultivation and other purposes continues to be the most pernicious practice endangering forest resources," a senior official said.

As per the official data, an estimated 3.68 lakh hectares was regularised in the past 20 years out of the total 10,94,059 hectares of forest land diverted under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for various activities," he said.

According to him, the Centre approved 64 proposals from various states such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar seeking diversion of forest land to illegal occupants including farmers and nomads in the said period.

Almost 21.93 per cent (2.40 lakh hectares) of forest land was diverted for rehabilitation purpose as well as setting up schools and hospitals while 34 per cent land was utilised for Hydel (10.42%), Irrigation (10.96%) and Mining (11.70 per cent) projects.

Also, 16 proposals were approved for forest village conversion for which 41,170 hectares of forest land was diverted.

"Proposals of the state and UT governments, submitted after they got approval of the Supreme court, are considered for regularisation by the Central government under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act," the official said.

"Prior to 1980, a number of states had regularised such encroachments periodically and approximately 43 lakh hectares of forest land was diverted for various purposes between 1951 and 1980, more than half of it for agriculture," he said.

But what is more worrying is that about 17,94,879 hectares of forest land is still under encroachment, according to the data available.

Assam has topped the list of states in terms of encroachment of forest land, with about 4,85,674 hectares of area under illegal occupation followed by Andhra Pradesh(around 2,68,853 hectares of forest land).

Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand too are not far behind with a total 5,28,077 hectares of forest land under encroachment.

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