The Union environment ministry has scrapped a rule that prevented the government from allowing industrial plantation in naturally forested areas, a move that will allow private players to enter forest management.
The change reflects in the new draft national forest policy 2016, which was made public by the ministry last week to replace the one formulated in 1988.
The almost-three-decade-old policy disallowed private parties from plantation or any other activities in natural forests, saying these “serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance”.
This clause has been done away in the draft, allowing the government, which has been managing forests for over a century, the elbow room to invite private companies and individuals to enter protected green areas.
The 1988 policy have been the guiding principle behind forest governance but the NDA government, which came to power in 2014, pushed the process of revising the policy to “make it more relevant”.
The government has set a target of increasing the forest cover to 33% as well as give impetus to wood-based industries.
Environmentalists are not happy with the changes, saying the new rules will harm environment and indigenous communities.
“The policy is silently allowing commercial plantation in the forests. The monoculture plantations will destroy the biodiversity of the forests and the captive plantation by companies will affect the livelihood of 20 million farmers who produce wood in agro-forestry,” said Ajay Kumar Saxena, programme manager (forestry) at the Centre for Science and Environment.
“The policy has also done away with the provision of supporting communities for fuel wood and fodder and only talk about promoting forest-based industry.”
The ministry has put up the draft for public opinion for a fortnight.
The government is considering promoting industrial plantation in forests through public-private partnership. Hindustan Times reported in September 2015 how the ministry laid down the procedure to lease out “degraded forests” to private companies to “carry out afforestation and extract timber”.
About 40% of the country’s green cover, about 70 million hectares, is deemed degraded by the government.
The ministry has issued guidelines to the states to identify patches in degraded forests that can be leased out.
File notings on ‘PPP in forest management’ reveals that the current policy was considered a hurdle as it mandated
the primary use of forests should be for environmental benefits and needs of local communities, while industries should extract raw material from captive plantations.