On March 14, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) drafted a new National Forest Policy 2018 which proposes climate change mitigation through sustainable forest management. After three decades this policy has been put forward to revise the existing National Forest Policy, 1988. A major highlight of the draft is privatization of forests that will allow the private entities to take control of degraded forestlands in India.
The policy proposes the development of “public-private partnership models” in the name of “increasing productivity of forests”. It also allows the corporate sector to grow, harvest and sell trees on government-owned forest lands that are explicitly banned under the existing National Forest Policy, 1988. The shift in approach to forestry proposed by the 2018 draft contrasts the guidelines specified in the 1988 policy. The draft stresses the need to ‘stimulate growth in the forest-based industry sector’ and encourages forest corporations and industrial units to ‘step up growing of industrial plantations.’
The significance attributed to requirements and rights of local, forest-dependent communities is being substituted by the demand for raw material from forest-based industries. Several industries that use timber and forest produce as raw materials, such as the paper and pulp and wood-board industry have demanded for decades that India’s forest policy allows government forest lands to be opened to the industry.
The draft policy also states that ‘Public-private participation models will be developed for undertaking afforestation and reforestation activities in degraded forest areas and forest areas available with Forest Development Corporations and outside.’ Degraded forests are green lands that have less than 40% tree canopy density, according to the government’s definition. According to the latest Forest Survey of India report, India has more than 34 million hectares (i.e. 40% of its total green cover – of degraded forests). In contrast, the 1988 policy banned private plantations in all natural forests, irrespective of their density. It states that ‘Natural forests serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance. Such forests will not, therefore, be made available to industries for undertaking plantation and for any other activities.’ But experts have pointed out that conversion of natural forests into monoculture industrial plantations can devastate local ecosystems because the guidelines prohibited firms from planting the same species of trees in only 10-15% of the area, meant to be developed for local communities.
The new draft has received severe criticism from numerous experts and societal groups as they argue that the policy will allow the central government to frame new sets of rules and laws which will lead to the dilution of Forests Rights Act, 2006. The Draft National Forest Policy ignores the Forests Rights Act, 2006 which empowers local gram panchayat, the tribal areas close to India’s forests, and suggests a joint forest management mechanism to enhance agro-forestry. If the new draft National Forest Policy is approved, it will permit the government to amend environment laws and allow the industry to take over patches of forest lands. More than 300 million tribal and other forest dwellers in India are either directly or indirectly dependent on forest lands for their livelihood. Successive governments have therefore chosen not to let industry take over green patches to protect the rights and interests of these citizens. Proposals as such were mooted in 1998 and then in 2008 but they were rejected each time by the respective governments.
New National Forest Policy (2018) will bring back the final authority over using forest resources to the forest department instead of forest dwellers and communities dependent on them for their livelihood. As mentioned by a distinguished fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Sharachchandra Lele, that the Draft National Forest Policy DNFP-2018 has reduced the extent of community participation and has demeaned the progress made till date in terms of increasing the role of community participation in forest management.
Though the need for industrial forestry is evident in case of India to make it more competitive at the global level, the fact cannot be denied that benefit of all the stakeholders needs to be ensured at all the possible parameters. Forests in India are not just a source for boosting industrial production of the country rather it is home for the majority of forest-dwelling communities and wildlife which comprises a significant part of Indian ecological system. Unlike the previous policies, this policy focuses on the international challenge of climate change, economic valuation of ecosystem services, forest certification and national forest ecosystem management information system, which is a positive aspect to look at, however; involvement of private entities in the forest-related management does not seem to be a fully thought out step in the long run. Thus, before passing the bill all these aspects should be evaluated and clear regulations should be drawn to prevent the exploitation of forest resources in the future.
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Shrivastava, K. S. (2018, July 15). Govt to allow pvt sector to manage 40% of forests. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/govt-to-allow-pvt-sector-to-manage-40-of-forests/story-yOiG4TO4kA2kvykxXNTEBK.html
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