Rethink growth with forest capital

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

forestCan you love tigers but hate forests? This is the question that troubled me as I visited the middle of India last fortnight. I was in Nagpur, where local politicians, conservationists and officials were discussing what needed to be done in this chronically poor and backward region endowed with forests and tiger habitats.

The discussion began with tigers. Everybody wanted more money to protect reserves earmarked for this magnificent creature. The demand was unanimous that Nagpur should be declared the tiger capital of the country. The existing tiger reserves should be expanded; better protected; money should be paid to relocate families living in the tiger’s habitats and tiger tourism should be promoted. Clearly, there was an important constituency for the tiger, which in turn is important for protecting their forested habitat. Or so you would think.

Then the talk turned to forests. “All development has come to a halt. We cannot mine coal. We cannot build thermal power stations, roads, factories or irrigation canals. In each case we need to go to Delhi or to Bhopal (the regional office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests) because we need clearance from forest departments for each hectare (ha) of land that will be diverted.” Forests were suddenly the underlying reason for the lack of development, poverty and dissatisfaction. Tigers were loved, but forests were hated.

It is important to understand this reality. This is a region where in many districts over 80 per cent of the land is classified as forests. Throw a stone and it will hit forestland. Under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, it was decided that the only way to stem rampant diversion of forests for development projects was to ensure that every file travelled to Delhi for clearance. Since the trip to Delhi was time-consuming, in 2003 it was agreed that in the case of projects requiring diversion of less than 40 ha of forestland the file would go to the ministry’s regional office.

No doubt this sternly worded legislation has been critical in safeguarding forests. Deforestation rates have come down. Cutting forests has become tough, as its diversion requires clearance on file, payment of its net value and funds for compensatory afforestation.

The flip side is that in this region the people have no use for forestland. They do not see the connection that if the forests go, the tiger cannot survive. Already, tiger populations are increasing but the contiguous forests, which allowed the territorial tiger to roam, are degraded or diverted to other uses. At this rate, the tiger will survive—because of the huge investment being made for its protection—but in increasingly smaller zones. This is the zooification of the tiger, bounded not in city zoos but in reserves surrounded on all sides with high-level firewalls.

This is the tragedy of our forests. There is no value for the tree, but only for the land below it—for mining or development. The people who live in forests are neglected and impoverished, caught between lack of development and the hateful stick of the forest guard. Small wonder Naxalites are taking advantage of this anger.

How can one maintain the balance between forests and development? In my view, it requires a drastic rethinking of what we mean by development and re-positioning forests in that development strategy. Let me explain.

Conventionally, the only way regions can develop is by cutting forests and building all that is known as infrastructure and signifies economic growth. This is what all of us living in non-forested zones have done. We have cut forests, then cultivated land and built factories and cities. We are rich because we have cleared the forests. Now how does a forested region grow with its forests, and become rich?

At the moment India has a provision to pay the “net present value” of forests while felling trees. In other words, we pay to cut. But there is no payment for standing forests. There is no value for this resource. For many years, chief ministers have been demanding that they be paid to protect forests. Finally, the 12th Finance Commission, in 2004, agreed that states must be paid for the maintenance of forests—some Rs 1,000 crore between 2005 and 2010. Very little money, but the principle was established. However, nothing really happened. In 2010, the 13th Finance Commission reiterated the need to compensate states and enhanced the allocation to Rs 5,000 crore over the next five years. But still the money has not been provided. Equally important is that this money must go to the people who live in the forested regions. It is their burden that must be rewarded. This is the first step.

But it is not enough to protect forests; we have to use them as well. This is the big challenge: to sustainably use the resources to build green wealth. Currently, the productivity of our forests is pathetically low. This is partly because we do not know how to plant and cut and then grow again, in the face of enormous human and animal pressure on our forestland. So we plant, but regeneration is low. We cut, and then the land is degraded. How then can we build a green forest future? How can we turn our forests into assets? Let us continue to discuss this.

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  • I doubt if people living in

    I doubt if people living in forests will be happy with just monetary compensation (Rs. 5,000 crore). I would think that they may want to (eventually) live in townships, use air-conditioners, cars, have malls/multiplexes, etc. That is the generally desired 'development model' and forests come in the way.

    I guess that's why they don't love forests!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • ÔÇ£How to plant and cut and

    ÔÇ£How to plant and cut and then grow againÔÇØ appears to be an existing paradox when we have a huge expanding forest services to manage it- it generates two corollary- (i) are they managing our forests? (ii) why in last 66 years they could not convert forests into income generating Assets. An Asset should also generate income. thnks

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for this valuable

    Thanks for this valuable insight. We only need to hate our faulty policy practices and laws till date but not our forests/tigers/tribals. Tiger can never ever co-exist with its all natural wild behavior with humans. Since seventies we are still planning a strategy to settle the issues between forest villagers and tigers. Anyhow if tiger habitats, which are the only natural reserve forest areas left in our country, are continue to be squeezed by various anthropogenic pressures that will lead us to a point where we canÔÇÖt get to see any tiger or natural forest in future. A tigerÔÇÖs need of healthy forest coverage is about its life to remain alive as a ÔÇ£tiger in wildÔÇØ but for humans forest is used for their livelihood purposes. Human needs can be fulfilled by providing the net value of their requirements with huge investment of money by the government as payment for standing forests. Now there should be a proper planned resettlement of the villages falling under the core area at least without any delay. A good standard of life in a practical sense is very much acceptable among villagers these days in interior areas even who are deprived of all basic amenities by the government since ages due to their prohibited status.
    Somewhere we have to draw a line to not to overlap the needs of tigers and humans and create forests on those forest department lands lying vacant to reduce the pressure on the main forest land which we have lossed over the years Go Green is for our overall sustainability ...for our safe and secure future. Thanks!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The topic discussed was

    The topic discussed was really elaborated very clearly & gave a very clear insite into what is happening with our forest & why.

    Yes I fully agree with the concept of paying to the state government for maintaning the forest. With this money , apart from carrying out the aforestation activity following more activities can be initiated .

    1. Creation of education & health care facilities for persons living in the forested area.

    2. By imparting basic primary education , we would be empovering members of families & they would then start thinking for higher education / vocational training. This will help them improve their skill levels & thus will help them in thinking of innovatiive ways of improving their lives.

    3. Some money should be given to people as a pension or monthly insentive from Govt. side.

    Through this I am hope full , dependency of families on forest shall decrease & cutting of forest shall be arrested.


    Deepak Mittal.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Wonderful article,

    Wonderful article, highlighting real dilemmas. I have one question and two suggestions. Q: Why has it not been possible to reforest the exact area cleared for development? S: The solution may lie in reorienting the development model with smart enclaves, water harvesting and recycling, and tremendous use of green technologies and habits. TV ads need to carry a warning : "excessive use of cosmetics/ detergents/ perfumes/deo-s and soaps will cause harm to the environment" to neutralise the mind numbing propaganda in favour of harmful products. We should switch to using nature-based products - this will help fight global warming and reduce carcinogenic substances in our environnment.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I remember reading in E. O.

    I remember reading in E. O. Wilson's Diversity of Life that much of the Amazon forests could be saved if people switched to eating iguana meat instead of beef--by harvesting iguanas from the forests we could get the same amount or more nourishing meat out of it than we could by chopping it down and ranching cattle on the land.

    I don't think this can be directly applied to Indian forests; the common Indian monitor lizard, sometimes called an iguana, is a very different animal than the South American green iguana. The Indian monitor is a rare carnivore, whereas the South American green iguana is a common vegetarian.

    However... I think we do need to seriously investigate what resources can be harvested from the forest without cutting it down. AND be open to changing our diets to these environmental needs... this is going to be a hard sell in India!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Most significant change

    Most significant change required with respect to our Forest Policy is a reorientation in the mind set of our Indian Forest Service strategies. Take for example the massive efforts made by Mira Ben to save the environments, Ganga floods due to soil erosion and lanslides, rural livelifood and cattle wealth in Uttarakhand during the time she spent there from 1945 to 1969. Even her letters to the then prime ministers could not bring about a change in the British Policy Fossilised mind set of our Indian Forest service thinking.
    British to start with needed strong able bodied rugged recruits from Garhawal, Kumaon, Dogra, Baloch regions for Army.
    To force them to leave their tranquil close to nature life style, poverty had to be injected in to these regions. The forests had a living organic relationship with man here. Women folk would drive their cattle in to the forests every morning, to graze on the undergrowth. Women would busy themesleves with lopping and cutting the lower branches of leaf fodder trees such as Óñ¼Óñ¥ÓñéÓñØ. In the evening cattle and women returned to their dwellings cattle having fed on the undergrowing greens. By lopping the lower branches of the forest trees, it was ensured that adequate sunshine reached the ground for photosynthesis of the undergrowth. Cow urine and dung dropped in the forest during the day maintained hill forest soil fertility. The Under growing ground cover ensured strong root system to hold the forest soil strongly and prevent soil erosion during rainy seasons. This forest soil erosion led to and still leads to frequent land slides and floods in Ganga and its tributeries. The branches of trees cut by women folk and brought back home provided much needed bedding for the cattle and firewood for the households. Cattle got good green fodder to ensure good healthy milk supply for the family. Britsh conspiracy was given effect by the Forest Officers to take following steps:
    1. Disallow cattle and women from entering forests to graze and cut tree branches.- This resulted in poor cattle nutrition that reduced milk productivity of hill cows. Loss of Milk production affected health of rural families. Cattle became a burden.No body could afford to keep any cows easily. Kerosine oil had to be purchased for fuel. Start of poverty forced men folk to migrate to cities and swell ranks of Army recruits.
    2. Forest Department started a delibrate system to establish Pine plantations to discourage leaf fodder avaiability that attracted women folk to forests in the first place. Pine needle on the floor caused a natural mulch that ensured suffocation of all green cover on the ground. Loss of green cover resulted in loss of root system that was holding and consolidating the forest soil. During rains soil erosion and land slides became common experience.
    Another more scientific fact has recently come to our notice regarding importance of green decaying matter on forest floors. The decaying green ground cover generates 'Pseudomonas Syringe' bacteria. This bacteria is known to raise the ice nucleation temperatures. This is now considered essential to ensure rains in forests. Loss of green cover on forest ground turns the forests in to deserts by loss of this bacteria. These bacteria naturally rise to cloud heights and force the clouds to precipitate rains. Without this bacteria at cloud heights, cloud just by pass the forest hills without precipitating rains. This is gradually turning all Himalyan forests to deserts lands.
    Indian Forest officers still insists on pine plantations on our hills. They do not allow cattle to enter the forests. They still do not believe that cattle entering the himalyan forest maintain soil fertility by their urine and dung when they visit forests. Obviously they are still following the Selfish policies that the British Raj had introduced to bring about poverty and turn our green forests in to deserts. Add to this the illegal forest wood trade.
    And this is only about our Northern Himalyan forests. More can be said about our forests in rest of the country.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Smt Narain, I am regular

    Smt Narain,

    I am regular subscriber of DTE for more than two decades.I read with interest your article.All the primary resourcs of nature on which life depends - forest,land,biodiversity,water and air are at a critical stage.This is because of the gluttonous consumerism of the rich few and the middle class of the world.We can not conserve forest unless consumerism is fought.To do this struggle to change the society into a simple living society is under taken by the people of the world. We have to think about what Gandhi & Tagore had warned long time back.
    Forest can't be saved simply by legislation and dictat from the top.

    Best Wishes from a 70 year old man

    Sincerely your's


    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The article does not explore

    The article does not explore the ecosystem functions that a forest serves and how we should put value on them, such as water absorption, erosion control, biomass generation, and many many more. There are many different varieties of trees. We can start to determine the purpose and function of different varieties and create incentives to encourge their planting, care and functioning.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • It is an interesting

    It is an interesting editorial by Ms. Sunita Narayan highlighting dilemma associated with forest management. I agree that unless we move towards sustainable management along with harmonizing conflicting interests of various stakeholders, the future of forests would not be safeguarded.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The forest of Indian

    The forest of Indian sub-continent has been quite degraded mainly due to population pressure,lack of proper maintenance and due to greed of certain people.Since our population living in forest fringe areas are poor,they need to earn their bread while a few people take this advantage and use this manpower for various purposes like poaching or illegal felling.Apart from lawful developmental activities,these are other major cause for degradation of forests.If an agency can be set up to protect the forest other than whatever exists like BSI,ZSI or ASI and stringent rules are applied for everyone,then only we may hope to rebuild this natural resource.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Dr.Narain, I very much

    Dear Dr.Narain,

    I very much liked your editorial and agree with you entirely. Nobody probably understands the crucial value of habitat and moreover the connectivity between two habitats for biodiversity conservation which is the foundation of human life. Everybody looks and loves to look at biodiversity from species perspective and that is reason for the pathetic state of our forests today.

    Anyway as regards your point for paying the landowner for not cutting the forests, i am glad to inform you that my organisation - has been working on incentive based conservation in the North Western Ghats for last four years and have managed to ensure protection to forests measuring on private lands measuring about 150 hectares by entering into conservation agreements with the landowners. This is India's first initiative in incentive based habitat conservation.Pl have a look at - for more information about this program of AERF.

    This is for your information.

    With warm regards

    Jayant Sarnaik

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • People will seek livlihood

    People will seek livlihood from forests only if they completely depend on them. Forests can never catch up with the growing population. Should forests give livlihood to humans ? Are the forests not giving enough already in the form of air and water ? As humans cannot stop reproducing or control their reproduction it will be futile to continue to try and earn livlihoods from forests. One day it will all get over just like iron ore or bauxite. It is better to leave the forests alone so that more water and air can be got. For that we need to relocate populations from the forests and resettle them outside. The only human intervention shoud be in the form of regulated tourism and occassional/predecided harvesting of forest produce that are abundant and would have gone to waste otherwise. How to relocate ? Well if the Land Acquisition Act can be enforced, people rehabilitated and industries set up, why cant the same act or a modified act be used to acquire forests, pay handsome R & R to the displaced and resettle them by providing vocational training and resultant jobs. Ofcourse, here too the population needs to be under control.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Traditionally the forest

    Traditionally the forest dwellers have had a stake in its preservation. They have survived on minor forest produce and lived in harmony with the plant and animal life there. Your efforts in declassification of bamboo as timber has indeed included the vast crafts population who will also have a stake in forest preservation.

    Whether we like it or not, the white collar attitude of administration has always seen 'development' as antagonistic to forest preservation. But that is because of pathetically myopic point of view due to lack of understanding of forest wealth. Even in developed economies, US for example, preservation of green cover, its use for eco tourism and animal reserves is an important aspect of economy.

    The whole of India was gondvana at some point in time.
    Agrarian society developed by displacing forests. Industrial society has also inherited that contradiction in its 'development' model. CSE has a deeper far reaching educative role here. Basic philosophical model has to be built up in favour of harmony between man,forest,animal and what can be called development.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Very good article, Sunitaji.

    Very good article, Sunitaji. My humble thoughts - standing forests do have value. They conserve top soil, maintain aquifers, provide oxygen and bio-diversity, all of which are important for humans as well. We pay a price by cutting forests - we need to fetch water from hundreds of kms away! and so on.
    While deforestation may become inevitable in some areas, some forests must be marked untouched. And forest people, who have safeguarded our forests for eons, must be valued; their ancestors had the knowledge of how to sustain the forest while living by its resources; this education must be enhanced; instead of trying to educate them in English...and giving them University education, emphasis should be given on their ancestral knowledge and how to adapt it for the future.
    Roshni Udyavar Yehuda, Mumbai

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The forestry states should be

    The forestry states should be evaluated on the basis of changes in their forest cover (qualitatively and quantitatively), which are assessed every two years by Forest Survey of India in State of Forests Report (SFR). The good performing states can be provided compensation as well as special funds for further improving their forest cover. AS poverty map and forest map of the country overlaps, the forest rich states should be specially allotted funds for Soil & Moisture conservation and collection & processing of Non Timber Forest Produce for generating employment opportunities for increasing the purchasing power of poor inhabitants. The manufacturing sector should be asked to provide the compensation money under Corporate Social Responsibility on the basis of carbon foot print they are creating . The compensation money should be shared among the forestry states depending on their performance published in SFR.
    Secondly there are certain other states which have created a good amount of Forest & Tree Cover (FTC)on non forest lands and meeting more than the 70% demand of wood of the country. These states who are contributing in saving the natural forests and carbon sequestration of the country, should also be compensated on the basis of their FTC shown in SFR. These measures will usher a new era for saving the forests of the country.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The discussions are

    The discussions are enlightening and there are some good points in every post. Standing, virgin forests should be preserved. Livelihoods creation can be attempted which introduce occupations which depend upon renewable forest wealth but also teach how not to harvest to the point where resources are destroyed or not renewed. Examples are grazing, sal seeds, shellac, rubber collection. Tea and coffee have established themselves as plantation industries. Logging has been an industry and paper making also depends upon the woody celluloses. These encourage mono culture plantations which could partially be off set with sanctuaries of land where other native species are encouraged.

    New plantations can be encouraged on waste, degraded and marginal lands and where possible these could be for biofuels.Without irrigation trees do not yield that much of nuts with oil or fruits.

    Recycling of waste streams can be attempted. Two technologies both developed in India are:

    Keshava Krishi based on ancient Vedic sciences by Swami Valmiki Sreenivasa Ayyangarya formerly a statistician and stock market analyst and now a successful organic farmer & technologist.

    Biosanitizer by a modern day engineer who studied chemical engineering at IITB but delved deep into ecology, ecosystems and eco engineering and identified and developed a key product called Biosanitizer which enables recycling of potentially toxic solid & liquid wastes, turning them into resources for agriculture, eliminating need for fertilizers, pesticides and even organic manures. The formulation Guruvani is a plant sanjeevini.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Have a look here:

    Have a look here:
    They are also questioning global mainstream in conservation...

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • A life style which include

    A life style which include and uses natural ways of creating infrastructure has to be adopted.
    Like in rural Meghalaya from ancient times people built bridges with live roots of big trees.Instead of felling trees for wood for building a bridge they use live roots and with time the bridge itself grows big.

    There are many examples of use of foliage leaves to set up cottage industries and thus make the living possible for people living in the forest.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Forests are taken for granted

    Forests are taken for granted ever since Industrial Revolution began, by the Industrial Societies, whether they are in The First World Nations or The Third World Nations, such as India. None really can estimate the Price, Cost, Value or Worth of the forest. Neither it is estimated while acquiring forest land for the so-called Development. That reflects while giving compensation to the development affected forest dwellers, particularly the Aborigine tribes or Adivasis.
    On this count any action, whether an editorial or the Land Acquisition Act could be judged!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Dr Narain, Your article

    Dear Dr Narain,

    Your article describes the dilemmas faced by people living in and near protected areas.

    Your attention and the attention of your readers is once again drawn to the possibilities offered by the introduction of integrated development concepts described at The material at the website includes material for a course for Diploma in Integrated Development. Just reading the course material provides a full introduction on the principles and techniques behind integrated development. All material is available to all free of charge under a Creative Commons licence.


    NGO Stichting Bakens Verzet (Another Way)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply