A new study supported by the Green Party of Germany finds that compensatory afforestation has not taken off in many cases and forest conservation rules have helped industry more than environment.
The report funded by the Heinrich Boll Foundation of the Green Party comes at the time when the environment ministry is framing new guidelines to streamline the process to clear projects in forest areas, in the wake of pressure mounted by infrastructure ministries such as Coal, Power and Steel.
The report examining India’s 30 year old forest conservation regime says that forests were being treated as a “commodity” and regulations have been used to help the industry and displace local communities, thereby defeating the purpose of forest conservation programmes.
The report, Banking on Forests: Assets for Climate Cure?, also analyses the possible impact of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REED) on Indian forests in wake of allowing diversion of forestland for non-forest purpose without sound compensatory mechanism.
Under REED, the United Nations has proposed providing money to developing countries to protect forests, which sequester carbon emissions. It would mean a company in UK would be able to buy carbon sequestered in a forest in Madhya Pradesh and the money generated can be ploughed for welfare of the locals.
The report says the similar regime of providing conservation benefit to communities, whose forests have been diverted since 1980, has not worked.
“Several decisions of the forest bureaucracy to allow mining or other construction in protected areas from whom people have been displaced and to encourage tourism in forests where grazing or other livelihoods have been brought to a halt are made to seem rational and complaint with the objectives of conservation and sustainability,” the report said.
In Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, the forest administration had handed over the forest area created and managed by it and the local community for Human Dam saying the project will be more beneficial for locals than forest. “The very same consequences are likely to occur to the forests created or conserved as carbon stocks,” the research done by Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon of Pune based NGO Kalpvariksh said.
The environment ministry, in the recent Group of Ministers, agreed to formulating new guidelines to streamline forest clearance process.
Already, over eight lakh hectares of forestland has been diverted for non-forest purpose since 1981 on condition of compensatory afforestation, but the report says the mechanism has not worked well.