Don’t jeopardise forests for mining
India needs a new policy framework to protect forests
The Union ministry of environment, forest, and climate change, whose mandate is to preserve India’s stressed natural wealth, has sought a reassessment of the sustainable mining plan for Saranda and Chaibasa forests in Jharkhand’s Singhum district. Critics suspect this is to facilitate mining. The Saranda forests are India’s largest, contiguous Sal forests spread over 82,000 hectares (ha). The current plan, which was prepared by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education in 2018, said mining should not be allowed in the dense forest. It also said marked out a certain area in the periphery of the forests for mining, but recommended that very dense forests with canopy density above 70% be left untouched.
Other than being a rich biodiverse forest and a huge carbon sink, Saranda is home to a large number of animal, bird and reptile species. While the forest is famous for sal trees, it is also rich in minor forest products. Marginalised tribal communities are also dependent on these forests. However, due to indiscriminate mining, Saranda has lost several plant and animal species.
One key reason why forests areas of the country, which are also mineral-rich, face such threats of destruction is because India, while it pursues its goal of having 33% of its land under forest cover, is yet to have a new national forest policy. This policy can define a “forest”, mark out the inviolate areas , and chart out a proper forest management system. The current National Forest Policy dates back to 1988, and cannot meet current challenges, where the trade-off between economic growth and infrastructure on the one hand, and safeguarding critical natural resources on the other, has only intensified. Additionally, along with assessing the value of minerals in Saranda-type forest areas, the Indian State must also measure the financial worth of the ecosystem services that a forest provides. Instead of looking for ways to facilitate mining, the ministry should focus on designing the new policy framework to protect forests.