The baton of forest restoration in the net zero race

News: For carbon sequestration, India must revisit its policy framework and reverse the decreasing participation of local communities.

After India’s pledge to set a net-zero target by 2070, at the COP26 summit, Glasgow, saving forests has become much more important.

In a study by Griscom (2017), natural climate solutions that also include forests can provide up to 37% of emission reduction and help in keeping the global temperature below 2° C.

However, the degradation of existing forests continues In India. As per the State of Forests Report (1989) on average, nearly 1.57 lakh hectare of forests were degraded.

Nearly 1.5 million hectares of forests have been diverted since 1980 for developmental activities.

Anthropogenic pressures due to encroachment, grazing, fire, are rising. For instance, India has lost nearly 1.48 million hectares of forests to encroachers.

Moreover, on account of increasing poverty and unemployment, India is witnessing enormous degradation of forests and deforestation.

This warrants the participation of people to achieve the desired target of carbon sequestration through the restoration of forests.

What are the steps taken by India to involve Local communities in forest management?

National Forest Policy, 1988:  it permitted to engage local communities in a partnership mode while protecting and managing forests and restoring wastelands with the concept of care and share.

Forest development agencies: It paved the way for fund flow from various other sources to joint forest management committees. It resulted in the formation of nearly 1.18 lakh joint forest management committees managing over 25 million hectares of forest area. They implemented various projects financed by external agencies such as the World Bank.

Eco-development committees: It is a similar system of joint management in the case of national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves.

It proved effective as it could attract the support of the participating communities for the protection and development of biodiversity, reduction in man-animal conflicts, and the protection of forests from fires and grazing.

What is the current issue?

Many of the Centrally sponsored programs (Project Tiger, fire management, Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH), Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)) lacks policy support to ensure the participation of local communities via the institutions of joint forest management committees.

It slowly made their participation customary. This caused a gradual decline in their effectiveness.

The role of local institutions of gram panchayat or joint forest management committees is now restricted to be a consultative institution instead of being partners in planning and implementation.

The alienation of JFMC from the participatory planning and implementation of various schemes further affects the harmony between Forest Departments and communities, endangering the protection of forests.

What is the way forward?

There is a need to incentivise the local communities appropriately and ensure fund flow for restoration interventions.

Political priority and appropriate policy interventions as done recently in Telangana need to be replicated in other States.

Telangana has created a provision for a Green Fund/Telangana Haritha Nidhi for tree planting and related activities.

Though India did not become a signatory of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, the considerations of land tenure and the forest rights of participatory communities will help India in the race toward net-zero.

Source: This post is based on the article “The baton of forest restoration in the net zero race” published in The Hindu on 10th Jan 2022.

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