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Govt’s draft forest policy focuses on commercial use, climate change mitigation

The new policy seeks to replace a 30-year-old forest policy

environment Updated: Mar 16, 2018 14:09 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Forest Policy,Environment ministry,Forest cover
The Centre has released the draft of a new forest policy that seeks to replace a 30-year-old policy. The new policy gives emphasis on commercial use of forest produce, climate change mitigation and prevention of forest fires. (HT File Photo for representational purpose only )

The Centre has released the draft of a new forest policy with the focus on commercial use of forest produce, creating green jobs, encouraging private plantations, watershed development, and mitigating climate change impacts through forestry.

The new policy seeks to replace the existing forest policy of 1998.

India continues to pursue the target set in 1952 to bring 33% of its geographic area under forest cover.

The most recent state of forest report showed that India has registered a marginal increase in recent years in green cover-- that includes forest as well as tree cover. It took into account trees that are grown outside forest area. Despite the increase, it is still hovering in the range of about 24%, much below the set target.

The new policy aims to leverage the direct and indirect economic benefits from forests by encouraging the use of wood and forest-based industries, improving the prospects through promoting ‘green jobs’ and ensuring self-sufficiency in timber production.

The 1988 policy emphasised substitution of wood and placed direct economic benefit as secondary to the principal aim of environmental stability.

The new draft policy also paid special attention to the emerging threat of forest fire and gave emphasis on its prevention. This week at least 12 trekkers died in a forest fire in Tamil Nadu. Other states in India have also seen an increase in forest fire incidents in the past decade.

Features of draft forest policy
  • 1) Tackling climate change by increasing green cover:
  • India has set itself a target of creating additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes
  • 2) Encouraging private plantations:
  • With the slow pace of increase in green cover, hovering around 23-24%, policy seeks to encourage tree plantation in non-forest areas including private lands.
  • 3) Forest fire prevention:
  • Plans to map the vulnerable regions, bolster early warning systems and improve fire control techniques.
  • 4) Boosting agroforestry and ‘green jobs’:
  • Encourages industries that use forest produce, because they are labour intensive
  • 5) Watershed development in forests:
  • Promotes watershed development in forest areas not only to prevent soil erosion but also to recharge the water table.

The new policy takes cognisance of not just the challenges posed by climate change but also the opportunities it brings.

Increasing green cover now has an added impetus-- to lock in carbon dioxide to meet India’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) of creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5- 3 billion tonnes.

The environment ministry in its draft policy has pushed for boosting private plantation outside forest areas, primarily to supply forest produce for industrial use and also to increase the carbon stock.

After removing restrictions on felling and transit of bamboo in order to promote private plantations, the Centre is now pushing for states to exempt at least 10 other agro-forestry tree species from felling and transit permit restrictions across the country.

A forest certification mechanism has been proposed that would allow industries to determine if the timber is sustainably harvested.

The forest policy also takes note of the deepening water crisis and seeks to promote watershed development in forest areas not only to prevent soil erosion but also to recharge the water table.

There is also a proposal to promote urban greens. The draft also has a specific section dedicated to forests in the North East, which hosts some of the densest and biodiversity-rich forests in India.

The policy will be heavily scrutinized after a controversial draft was released in 2016. The environment ministry had uploaded a draft prepared by the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management. However, it was unceremoniously withdrawn and the ministry did its best to distance itself from it.

“They had recommended a community forest management system, sort of creating a parallel system that ignored the community forestry management framework that was emerging under the Forest Rights Act,” said Shruti Agarwal, a researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment.

This time the policy takes cognizance of the FRA.

Another point of contention in the withdrawn draft was the suggestion to involve private sector in managing forests within forest land.

The 2018 draft calls for public-private partnerships to undertake afforestation in degraded forest areas and forest areas under the Forest Development Corporations and outside forests.

“They keep formulating policies, but the important thing is whether they are implemented or not, what we need is a policy regulator,” said J.V.Sharma, director, forestry & biodiversity division of the Energy and Resources Institute.

The Supreme Court in 2014 asked the environment ministry to set up an independent environment regulator for ensuring that environmental laws, including those with respect to forests, are enforced. The draft provides for setting up of a National and State Boards of Forestry for periodic review.

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First Published: Mar 16, 2018 10:38 IST