Old-growth forests are invaluable. Save them
The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change has informed states and Union Territories that it will cost 1.5 times more to divert forest land for other purposes, this newspaper reported on Tuesday. The new charge is based on a revised formula to calculate the one-time payment of net present value (NPV) by the ministry. NPV is the upfront payment made by project proponents for the loss of forests and their ecosystem services (gains made by humans from surroundings ecosystems) and is used for conservation efforts by the ministry. NPV is calculated depending on the density of the canopy and the quality of forests. These new rates, ministry officials say, will act as a deterrent to industries and projects on the extent of forest land they seek to divert.
In 2008, while hearing the TN Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs. Union of India case, the Supreme Court directed that “user agency shall be required to make payment of net present value of such diverted land so as to utilise this for getting back in the long run which are lost by such diversion”. Later, several government panels proposed that project proponents pay much higher NPV charges because forest land has value over and above the value of the land and provides several services that cannot be measured.
Environmentalists have raised questions on the NPV regime: Can it stop diversion of critical forest land, and is it really possible to calculate the true value of a forest? These are valid questions. The value of a forest, especially old-growth, biodiverse forests, is immeasurable; deforestation has deep environmental and social costs since many communities are dependent on forests. Besides, land is scarce in India, so compensatory afforestation may be a challenging task. While economic development will need land and other resources, the planning process must be done carefully to ensure that old-growth and biodiverse forests are left intact. India cannot afford to lose the protective cover of forests in a climate-hit era.