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Commercial plantation gets nod in new forest draft policy

Activists allege the clause is damaging to forest communities and biodiversity.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2018 23:10 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Draft forest policy,Commercial plantation,Commercial plantations in forests
Forest areas that will be prioritised for industrial plantations will be those declared as “degraded” land.(HT File Photo)

A revised draft of the forest policy retains the controversial idea of commercial plantations in forest areas, although it now says local communities will get a share of the benefits.

The change, which activists are still not happy with, is part of several significant amendments in the draft forest policy based on more than 1200 comments received from stake-holders. The finalised draft will now be sent to the Cabinet.

A major change is facilitating tripartite agreements between industry, government and the local community to give the community a share of economic benefits from private plantation projects, said a senior forest-division official who asked not to be identified. The original clause on facilitating forest-industry interface had drawn flak from environmentalists and forest-rights groups because it encouraged forest corporations and industrial units to develop industrial plantations to meet the demand for timber. The clause was misunderstood, the forest division official added, as the areas that will be prioritised for industrial plantations will be “fallow land,” “degraded land recorded as jhudpi jungle (a kind of revenue forest)”, “degraded forests” and “orange areas” (disputed land in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh). Protected forests will not be considered for the projects, he said.

Industry has already expressed interest in making investments in these large-scale commercial plantations. “Timber is a carbon neutral resource. India’s annual timber import is worth Rs 42,000 crore, this gap needs to be bridged. Plus, our aim is to have at least 33% forest cover nationally. We currently have 24%, these plantations will help cover the 9% left. Our priority for such industrial projects will be areas outside protected forests because the communities are dependent on forests for livelihoods. We plan to make the local community a partner in these projects,” the officer said.

Activists campaigning for forest and land rights said the clause continues to be as damaging to forest communities and biodiversity. “We are concerned about the final version of the forest policy. “What are degraded forests? It’s a very arbitrary description. Many such forest areas are being used for shifting cultivation (jhum) on ground. Plus these common lands are yet to be recognised for community forest resource rights,” said Tushar Dash of Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA) group.

He added that jhudpi jungle, degraded revenue forests and orange areas are forests where communities have traditional rights and allowing commercial ventures violated the forest rights act 2006.

“There is a specific clause in the forest rights act recognising community rights in those areas in orange areas, which are disputed between revenue and forest departments.”

In some cases, these plantations will come up on so-called commons currently used by local communities.

“Orange areas are about 30 lakh acres of land in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh that were doubly recorded as forest and revenue lands after the zamindari abolition act. Both of these areas are used as common lands by the local communities,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, a SC advocate who has worked on a number of forest cases.

Activists are also worried that the plantations being planned will just become another business.“The focus on plantations underplays the existing biodiversity of forest lands and also runs a serious risk of turning them into monoculture areas with the singular purpose of revenue generation,” said Kanchi Kohli, researcher, Centre for Policy Research. Another change made to the draft is the inclusion of forest-dwelling communities in conservation efforts.

First Published: Sep 20, 2018 23:10 IST