What does the new draft of National Forest Policy 2018 say?
India’s Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has unveiled the draft of a new National Forest Policy (NFP) 2018, to address some new realities and harsh truths – climate change, human-animal conflict and declining green cover and intends to replace the existing National Forest Policy (NFP) that was laid down way back in 1988.
The 2018 policy aims to bring a minimum of one-third of India’s total geographical area under forest or tree cover through scientific interventions in order to safeguard the ecological and livelihood security of people of present and future generations, and climate change mitigation by banning commercial activity in natural forests to protect forest dwellers. It also plans to promote plantations in the outside forests areas and catchment areas of water bodies to prevent forest fires, as well as to increase the ability of forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, promote greenery in urban area and encourage water recycling.
Community-based forest management: The current draft policy plans to set-up two national-level bodies for better management of the country’s forests. These are National Community Forest Management (CFM) Mission and National Board of Forestry (NBF). To ensure community participation in forest management and to ensure non-withdrawal of the new plan on the basis of Forest Rights Act, as it was done in 2016, all development programmes are planned so as to converge at national, state and local levels by maintaining a synergy between gram sabha and the Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC).
The creation of a people’s movement to protect forest resources of the country was proposed by the 1988 National Forest Policy and in June 1990, a circular on Joint Forest Management (JFM) was issued by the Central Government to operationalize participatory forest management and address the community forest protection activities in India. Unfortunately, due to the lack of an appropriate tenure on forestland in favour of the forest managing communities in India, JFM approach has not been successful in meeting the expectations raised by the National Forest Policy, 1988.
Compensatory afforestation fund: To better manage the money and to utilize it for the designated purposes, the Supreme Court in 2002 directed by the constitution of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 provides for the setting up of CAMPA at both central and state levels to ensure expeditious and transparent utilization of compensatory afforestation fund (amounts realised in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose. It includes all payments received towards compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation and net present value of the diverted forest land that someone has to pay for diverting forest land for non-forest purposes).
The policy proposes to utilize the compensatory afforestation fund that is being transferred to the states, for taking up afforestation, management of forests and rehabilitation works in degraded forest areas as well as for bringing new areas under forest and tree cover.
Forest fires: Every year, around 20,000 forest fire incidents are reported in India, because during the dry season, the deciduous and semi-deciduous forests shed their leaves and allow the development of fuel at the surface of forests. In 2016, when the pine forests of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh caught fire, it caused damage to around 3500 hectares of land and also resulted in serious health hazards by producing smoke and noxious gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide, that leads to adverse consequences for local climate.
To safeguard ecosystems from forest fires, the draft policy suggests taking up adequate measures to map the vulnerable areas and develop and strengthen early warning systems and methods to control fire, based on remote sensing technology and community participation.
Wildlife management: There has been a growth in human population in the past two decades, which has resulted in the shrinking of wildlife habitats and vanishing animal corridors. This has led to serious cases of man-animal conflicts. A total of 1,144 human deaths were recorded due to conflict with tigers and elephants in 1,143 days until 18 May 2017, which means at least one human life was lost every day on an average. Human-wildlife conflict has emerged as a major concern due to development activities, decline in prey for wildlife, and loss and degradation of wildlife habitats, thus increasing the chances of wild animals leaving their habitats and encountering people. This conflict has resulted in a loss of human as well as animal life, and injuries to them. Ironically, people in India still worship many animals and consider them as sacred.
With an aim to protect the life of humans and animals and also prevent these conflicts, the draft policy provides for identification and maintenance of wildlife-rich areas and corridors outside protected areas to ensure ecological and genetic continuity.To strengthen wildlife management, human-wildlife conflicts due to habitats and population of certain wildlife species within and outside forests, short-term and long-term actions have been laid down.
Public-private participation: The principal aim of National Forest Policy, 1988, was environmental stability, maintaining ecological balance, and meeting the subsistence requirements of the local people, while the new draft policy moots public-private participation (PPP) in afforestation programmes in degraded forest areas. PPP means opening up natural forests for private plantations in degraded natural forests and allowing the corporate sector to grow, harvest and sell trees on government-owned forest lands, which would mean privatisation of India’s natural resources and creating private forests.
This will bring together world experts in forest management from economic, scientific, cultural, governance and community management backgrounds to identify and develop systemic approaches for forest conservation in India through public and private sector participation for a sustainable future.
Loopholes in the policy
This policy neither makes any reference to a national stream revival programme to tackle the water crisis in India, nor a green tax which is levied on certain products and services for facilitating ecologically responsible behavior, garnering citizens’ contribution and supplementing financial resources.
PPP, if not monitored properly, may lead to the exploitation of resources, to privatisation of India’s natural resources and allow industries to take over patches of forest lands and even creation of private forests.
Author: Namrta (Student pursuing LL.M. from National Law Institute University, Bhopal)