With an increase of 348 square kilometres of forest cover, Jammu and Kashmir ranks among the country''s top five states and union territories in terms of increase in forest cover, informed Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Passing out Ceremony of the Forest Guards of 32nd, 56th, and 66th Course at the Convention Centre in Jammu, the Lt Governor congratulated the forest department and said that the forests have enabled the union territory to receive a higher proportion of funds, around Rs 1,700 crores annually under the 15th Finance Commission.
"The monetary value of benefits like timber, firewood, fodder, and non-timber forest products as assessed by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics are worth around Rs 3,000 crores, more than 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of J-K. Focus on new avenues like Ecotourism and promotion of Wood-Based Industries can substantially increase the contribution to the GDP," he added.
"With more than half of the union territory under forest cover, the lives of people are closely linked to the forests who expect timely delivery of services such as firewood, fodder and timber. Forest Guards should prioritize the maintenance of efficiency and transparency, besides taking care of Wood-Based Industries which provides employment to the people here," he said.
Sinha also paid homage to martyrs of the Forest Department who lost their lives in the line of duty and congratulated the 98 pass-outs, encouraged them to discharge the responsibility of conserving natural resources and biodiversity with utmost dedication.
Emphasizing on extending the union territory''s green cover, Sinha called for the development of Eco Parks and the establishment of more Bal Vans, green areas and a comprehensive plan for the conservation of ecology in and around Mansar-Surinsar.
"Forest Guards are no less than soldiers of our Defence and Police forces. The department should organize programs on September 11 - Forest Martyr''s Day, every year to mark the efforts of frontline staff and pay tribute to their valour and sacrifices," he added.
Speaking to ANI, Sarita Chauhan, Commissioner Secretary Forest, Environment and Ecology Department said that the graduating forest guards should be given the utmost respect for their work in protecting the ecology.
"Forest guards are given very rigorous forest training. It is a highly scientific program and they play important roles as frontline protectors of forests and first responders. We want them to get the utmost respect for the climate of their role in the protection of the climate and ecology. We hope that more and more people come forward for these roles," Chauhan said. (ANI)