On June 15, India's environment ministry placed the draft national forest policy in public domain for comments and suggestions. It is slated to replace the National Forest Policy, 1988
Hills and mountainous regions may not be required to maintain two-thirds of the geographical area under forest cover. Although the policy continues with the national goal of maintaining a minimum of one-third of the geographical area under forest or tree cover, the Forest Survey of India report released in December 2015 shows that India’s forest and tree cover makes up only 24.16 per cent of its geographical area.
The draft National Forest Policy (NFP) proposes the levy of a green tax for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour and supplementing financial resources essential to address forestry woes. “The budget of the forestry sector should be appropriately enhanced so that the objectives enshrined in this policy can be achieved. Environmental cess, green tax, carbon tax may be levied on certain products and services for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, garnering citizen’s contribution and supplementing financial resources,” the draft policy says.
NFP ignores Forests Rights Act, 2006, which empowers local gram panchayats, especially in tribal areas close to India’s forests, and proposes a joint forest management-like mechanism to enhance agro-forestry. This move will bring back the forest department as the final authority over using forest resources instead of forest dwellers and communities dependent on them.
The policy proposes to launch a new Community Forest Management Mission, bringing government, community and private land under the new proposed management system. It aims to bring one-third of the government-owned forests under the Community Forest Management regime by the end of the next decade. The policy recommends contracts between forest-dependent industries and farmers to fix price and quantity to ensure supply for the wood industry. The policy says, “Large-scale expansion of agro-forestry and farm forestry should be encouraged through commensurate incentives and operational support systems such as lowering the input costs and enabling access to reasonably priced quality planting material.”
The policy states that forest land diversion projects related to mining, quarrying, construction of dams, roads and other linear infrastructure need to adopt special caution. Use of state-of-the-art technology which causes minimum pollution and damage should be promoted.
The policy states that a National Board of Forestry and State Boards of Forestry are to be established to ensure monitoring of the spread of the forest areas and management of forest cover.
It calls for developing “sound ecotourism models” with the focus on conservation while supplementing the livelihood needs of local communities. “Ensure that tourism is responsible, does not negatively impact wildlife and its habitat and maximises the income of the local community,” the policy says.
Climate change concerns should be effectively factored into all the forest and wildlife areas management plans and community ecosystem management plans, the policy states.
The draft policy indicates that CAMPA funds from diversion of forest land by industry are to be used for purchasing wildlife corridors from people.
The policy also asks for management plans for city forests, parks, garden and woodlands to nurture and sustain urban health, clean air and related benefits.
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