Also Read: Evolution of Forest Rights in India from 1856 to 2006 | In Depth Analysis of FRA & Its Issues
The environment ministry came out with a draft National Forest Policy (NFP). The policy has been prepared by the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) and is aimed at facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour among stakeholders.
The proposed NFP is going to be third such document after India’s independence with first in 1952 followed by the second in 1988.
Why is there a need for Forest Policy?
- Forests and trees constitute nearly one fourth of the geographic area of the country.
- Protection of this vast and valuable resource, improving and increasing the forest and tree cover requires adequate investment keeping in view the pressures on these forests, and the ecosystem services that they provide to the nation.
- Large tracts of forest area in the country have degraded due to immense biotic pressure and lack of adequate investment.
- The crux of the problem in India’s existing forest policy — the Forest Policy of 1988 — has been that it made the forest department the manager of the forests and the people lost their rights over it.
- But as the Uttarakhand forest fires showed recently, a few hundred forest officials and a few thousand employees of the department can do nothing when a calamity strikes. They need community support in such emergencies.
- Less forest on hilly areas: Although the policy continues with the national goal of maintaining a minimum of one-third of the geographical area under forest or tree cover, Hills and mountainous regions may not be required to maintain two-thirds of the geographical area under forest cover.
- Board to monitor management of forests: The policy 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.
- Technology to minimize damage to forests: 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. Use of state-of-the-art technology which causes minimum pollution and damage should be promoted.
- Green tax on citizens: The draft National Forest Policy (NFP) proposes the levy of a green tax for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour and supplementing financial resources essential to address forestry woes.
- Undermines FRA 2006: NFP ignores 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.
- New Mission: The policy proposes to launch a new Community Forest Management Mission, bringing government, community and private land under the new proposed management system.
- Provisions for responsible tourism: It calls for developing “sound ecotourism models” with the focus on conservation while supplementing the livelihood needs of local communities.
- Climate change to emerge as important factor in policy: It states that Climate change concerns should be effectively factored into all the forest and wildlife areas management plans and community ecosystem management plans.
- Purchase of wildlife corridors: The draft policy indicates that CAMPA funds from diversion of forest land by industry are to be used for purchasing wildlife corridors from people.
- Maintaining Urban forest: 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.
- Supports the Government Vermin Policy: In a nod to the Union government’s controversial decision to declare certain animals as “vermin” and implicitly sanctioning the slaughter of nilgai, wild pigs and monkeys in certain States, the forest policy recommends mitigating human-wildlife conflicts by taking up habitat enrichment, providing adequate and timely compensation in case of injury or loss of human life, property, crop damage or livestock casualties and developing teams of well-equipped and trained forest personnel.
Significance of the policy
- The policy recommendation for the launch of a national forest streams revival programme in a mission mode to tackle intensifying water crisis in India in the last few decades is a good step.
- The levy of a green tax for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, supplementing financial resources essential to address forestry woes will act as a step to mitigate the effects of pollution.
- Besides specifying how to manage forests, the draft policy said, “Other ecosystems such as alpine meadows, grasslands, deserts, marine and coastal areas should be protected and managed as well” and this will help to make it comprehensive.
- It calls for developing sound ecotourism models with the focus on conservation while supplementing the livelihood needs of local communities which is a commendable move.
Criticism of the policy
NFP ignores 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. This move will bring back the forest department as the final authority over using forest resources instead of forest dwellers and communities dependent on them.
- After facing much criticism from the Civil society the centre has withdrawn the draft policy recently. The criticism is not misplaced as the draft policy proposes to dilute the Forests Rights Act (FRA), do away with requirement of having two-third geographical area of mountainous and hill regions under forests, and for allowing industry to have commercial plantations on the forest land , increase the power of the forest bureaucracy and keep local communities out of the decision-making process.
- While devising a new policy, the ministry must not only focus on increasing the forest area and bettering the quality of the forests but also ensure that the connection between forest-dependent communities and forests is not lost.