Context:

There is a need to relook at the National Forest Policy as it contains concepts that have been long discarded.

Status of Forest Cover in India:

According to the State Forest Report 2015:

  • Forest cover of India increased by 5,081sq.kms between 2013 and 2015- Showed an increase of 21.34% between 2013 and 2015
  • Country’s carbon stock also increased by 103 million tonnes.
  • Very dense forests in India cover 2.61 percent of the total forest area,
  • Moderately dense forests account for 9.59 percent
  • Open forests stand at 9.14 percent
  • Among all the states and Union Territories, Mizoram has the highest forest cover with 88.93% of the total area, followed by Lakshadweep
  • However, north-eastern states experienced a decline in forest cover except Manipur
  • The mangrove cover in India has increased by 112sq.kms following acute conservation in the Sundarbans and Bhitarkanika forest.
  • States of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana suffered huge loss of forest cover.

Major challenges to protect forests in India:

  • Due to the rising population there is enormous pressure on forest land.
  • There is rising encroachment for extension of agriculture
  • Increasing demand for forest resources for forest based resources is a major issue.
  • There have rising conflicts between conserving forests for generating ecosystem services and diversion for developmental project. This has emerged as a major the biggest challenges in managing the forest resources.
  • diversion of forest lands to non-forest uses without ensuring compensatory afforestation and essential environmental safeguards

Forest Policy in India:

  • India inherited the colonial forest policy (1894) and the Indian Forest Act (1927).
  • On the basis of the recommendations of the Central Board of Forestry, National Forest Policy was drawn in 1952.
  • The inadequacies and shortcomings of the 1952 Forest policy was realized and it was reviewed and revised to formulate the National Forest Policy, 1988

National Forest Policy, 1988

According to the Forest Policy Resolution of 1988, forest cover of country should not be less than 33% of the total geographical area

Principal aim:

  • To ensure environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance including atmospheric equilibrium which are vital for sustenance of all life forms, human, animal and plant
  • The derivation of direct economic benefit must be subordinated to this principal aim.

Basic Objectives:

  1. Maintenance of environmental stability through preservation and, where necessary, restoration of the ecological balance that has been adversely disturbed by serious depletion of the forests of the country
  2. Conserving the natural heritage of the country by preserving the remaining natural forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna, which represent the remarkable biological diversity and genetic resources of the country.
  3. Checking soil erosion and denudation in the catchment areas of rivers, lakes, reservoirs in the interest of soil and water conservation, for mitigating floods and droughts and for the retardation of siltation of reservoirs.
  4. Checking the extension of sand-dunes in the desert areas of Rajasthan and along the coastal tracts.
  5. Increasing substantially the forest/tree cover in the country through massive afforestation and social forestry programmes, especially on all denuded, degraded and unproductive lands.
  6. Meeting the requirements of fuel wood, fodder, minor forest produce and small timber of the rural and tribal populations.
  7. Increasing the productivity of forests to meet essential national needs.
  8. Encouraging efficient utilisation of forest produce and maximising substitution of wood.
  9. Creating a massive people’s movement with the involvement of women, for achieving these objectives and to minimise pressure on existing forests.

Shortcomings of the National Forest Policy, 1988

  1. Use of obsolete concepts:
  • The principal aim uses the concepts of ecological balance and environmental sustainability- both of these concepts are discarded
  • The term “ecological balance” originated as ‘the balance of nature’ in ancient Greece and was extensively used through the middle Ages. However, with a better understanding of the functioning of natural systems, the concept was completely rejected by early 20th century
  • Similarly, the concept of ‘environmental stability’ is questionable because it is evident that natural processes are never stable or stagnant but are always in the process of change and succession.
  1. Definitional issue:

Absence of official definition for the term ‘forest’

  1. The third objective states that soil erosion and denudation of catchment areas of rivers, lakes and reservoirs should be checked. However, it does not suggest how this is to be done and why this point fits in, in the policy.
  2. The principal aim lacks valid terms of reference.
  3. The National Forest policy suggests to resolve, protect and improve the environment and forests of the country by initiating key programs including forest protection and afforestation, Joint Forest Management, forest fire control measures, treatment of drought prone areas, strengthening of infrastructure, wildlife conservation, pollution control measures and implementation of environment law. However, much of these activities are not well integrated.

New Draft National Forest Policy

On June 15, India’s environment ministry placed the draft national forest policy in public domain for comments and suggestions.

Major highlights of the New Draft:

  • Proposes the levy of a green tax for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour and supplementing financial resources essential to address forestry issues
  • Undermines Forests Rights Act, 2006, which empowers local gram panchayats, especially in tribal areas close to India’s forests, and proposes a joint forest management-like mechanism to enhance agro-forestry
  • Proposes to launch a new Community Forest Management Mission, bringing government, community and private land under the new proposed management system
  • The policy states that forest land diversion projects related to mining, quarrying, construction of dams, roads and other linear infrastructure need to adopt special caution.
  • It states that a National Board of Forestry and State Boards of Forestry are to be established to ensure monitoring of the spread of the forest areas and management of forest cover
  • It calls for developing “sound ecotourism models” with the focus on conservation while supplementing the livelihood needs of local communities.
  • The draft policy indicates that CAMPA funds from diversion of forest land by industry are to be used for purchasing wildlife corridors from people.
  • The policy also asks for management plans for city forests, parks, garden and woodlands to nurture and sustain urban health, clean air and related benefits.
  • Climate change has also emerged as a major factor in the policy

Suggestions

  • There is an urgent need to review the National Forest Policy, 1988 in order to formulate its aims and objectives on today’s terms.
  • Terms and concepts used should be relooked at as the policy uses concepts which have been discarded a century back
  • There is a need for a proper definition for ‘forests’
  • Objectives needs to be more well defined
  • Well integrated and efficiently implemented programs are required to protect environment and forests.
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