Forests are treasures of nature, providing the necessary, directing the wild, sources of amenities for humans; thriving in spite of misuse. These caregivers of our planet not only act as home to a million varieties of species but are one of the two main sinks of GHGs, the other being oceans. It may not be the first time you were taught about protecting forests or reclaiming areas for progressive cultivation and thus to a species-rich habitat, but the need for doing this now is more than ever.
People are caught in destroying facets of this environment without realizing the doom lying ahead. Now with a young population of nearly 2 billion, the requirement for preservation of genetic biodiversity, both in fauna and flora, has exceeded prior commitments. It is a now or never situation. It’s difficult to make the general public understand limitations of their survival in absence of oxygen as presently whatever they get is free and easily available. Without any care of what might happen tomorrow, and that is sure to with the current trends in pollution elevation, people choose to forget to save. Exorcising is never easy but this pollution caused by our unhygienic activities can easily be removed through a simple procedure, a simple at hand task, and that is, planting trees to regrow a lost forest.
Beginning With The Indian Forest Scenario
When India was under British rule, a number of changes were brought about in the existing ruling system with additions and subtractions of what benefited the Britishers. Hence, the Indian Forest Act of 1865, which ended the centuries-old tradition of forest use by communities and secured the planted areas, rich in biodiversity, for utilization of the colonizers, came into being. This Act was a precursor to the Forest Act of 1878 and was responsible for declaration of any planted land as a forest with direct management by the British. Accordingly, the Indian Forest Acts of 1878 and 1927 were implemented with 1927 stating the following:
“To consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.”
Apart from this, the Act of 1927 also regulated which of the planted areas could be declared a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest, or a Village Forest. It is thorough in defining what a forest offence is, the activities prohibited in a Reserved Forest and the penalties leviable on violation of provisions of the Act. The territorial extent of this Act was whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Integration of New Policies
The drawback of this Act, after the 1972 UN Conference in Stockholm aroused a global environmental consciousness, was that this categorization of forests into three classifications is based only on the revenue generated and has no relation whatsoever to environmental protection. Even after the constitution of India was amended in 1976 to include environmental safeguards and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was passed, this Act of 1927 remained in force in many states of India, with examples of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
To demodulate and reinforce the policies of 1927 and another of 1952, a new National Forest Policy was brought into effect in 1988. According to this policy, the total forest cover of our country should not be less than 33% (as stated by the NFP 1952 too) to ensure environmental stability and preservation of ecological balance, with the providence of indirect economic benefit without any major losses to the planted areas. (http://blog.forumias.com/urgent-need-to-review-the-national-forest-policy/)
Shortcomings of NFP 1988
With the advent of population explosion crisis, forest cover has reduced far more than ever in the Indian sub-continent, thus, impaling the NFP of 1988. Some of the shortcomings of this policy are mentioned below:
An understanding of the terms environmental stability and ecological balance has developed over the years into something more profound than what was earlier pronounced out of these. As opposed to the constant instability in the environmental conditions, the term environmental stability is obsolete as mentioned in the NFP of 1988. In the same way, use of ecological balance is deemed outdated as it appears to have been used in ancient Greece to describe balance in nature. The basic terms that define this policy had to be reconsidered.
The objective of prevention of soil erosion and denudation along rivers, lakes, and reservoirs is not properly enumerated.
This policy statement lacks proper terms of reference and the official definition of a forest.
Suggestions to improve total forest cover by implementing programs including Joint Forest Management, treatment of drought-prone areas, wildlife conservation, pollution control measures, forest protection and afforestation and implementation of environmental law are not well integrated in this policy.
Overcoming Difficulties through New Draft National Forest Policy, 2018
At present, India’s forest and tree cover is estimated to be 802,088 sq. km, which is about 24.39% of the country’s total geographical area. (https://www.livemint.com/Politics/YKRe5VogEJnpFzUdFKU0QJ/Government-unveils-draft-national-forest-policy.html).
To protect the existing and increase the same to 33%, an improved draft on Forest Policy was placed in public domain for suggestions and comments on 15 June 2017. After this, the approved draft was released in 2018, which included many factors not previously enclosed in the earlier policies.
The highlights of the approved draft are:
Proposing the levy of a green tax for facilitating ecologically responsible behavior and supplementing financial resources essential to address forestry issues.
Undermining 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.
Proposing 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 the 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. (http://blog.forumias.com/urgent-need-to-review-the-national-forest-policy/)
Expecting the Best out of NDNFP 2018
To begin with, a number of policies have been brought into effect since Independence with some or the other drawbacks holding those back from perfect implementation. Here a new page is being turned and we must hope that this National Forest Policy of 2018 would have the capacity to recognize the shortcomings of its predecessors, not repeat the same mistakes and move forward to excel in its preamble and goals of environmental development.
A proper official definition of forests needs to be constituted with enforcement of laws and by-laws preventing harm to planted areas for our benefit.
Ecologists and conservationists need to be consulted too with the advent of Silent Forests in the new draft, which means single-layered monotonous plantations of commercially viable plants and trees as opposed to a bbiodiversity-richnatural forest. This may have a drawback never seen before.
The National Forest Policy of 1988 must be reviewed to reduce losses arising from negligence in its execution so as to save time and resources, now, when both are rare.
Care should be taken to prevent any interruption in the existing environment related to land-use change, river diversions and preventing excessive plantations where existing ecosystems are at a loss.
What’s in there for Climate Change?
As is discussed in the beginning, forests act as sinks of GHGs, especially Carbon dioxide, thereby assisting in mitigating climate change. Mentioned in the new draft is that:
“Climate change concerns will be factored in all the forest and wildlife areas, working/management plans and Community Ecosystem Management Plans”
Thus, helping overcome perils of drastic meteorological conditions in the country. The policy also talks about degraded land and how to improve the uncultivated areas with help from both private and public sectors using partnership models.
“The lands available with the forest corporations which are degraded and underutilized will be managed to produce quality timber with scientific interventions. 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 forests.”
What India needs now is a thorough understanding of each and every part of its vast biogeographical arena, not to mention the increasing human resource, and formulating a way to amalgamate both into sustainable development.
Adeela Hameed is currently pursuing Masters in Environmental Sciences from Amity University, Noida.