Planting trouble

Published: Tuesday 15 August 1995

Planting trouble

No, no and no again. At a meeting organised by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (cse) on July 7, environmentalists firmly rejected the proposal of the ministry of environment and forests (mef) to virtually lease out degraded forest lands to industry for captive plantations.

The cse meeting brought together industrialists, bureaucrats, academicians and environmentalists from all over India to discuss the issues involved. Environmentalists fear that the proposal will, for all practical purposes, amount to handing over 2 million hectares of forest land -- a move which will be socially and ecologically ruinous. These tracts are actually used as common lands by millions of poor people. Apart from making them poorer, the proposal would invite the degradation of other nearby forests. Instead, the environmentalists proposed that industry's raw material requirements be met from farm forestry and joint forest management. This would be both farmer- and industry-friendly.

Captive plantations would rob the farmers, who had planted 10 million trees in the '80s, of a major market. Says Anil Agarwal, director, cse, "First, the government subsidised the industry with very cheap wood in the '60s. Then came the 1980 subsidies in the form of cheap pulp imports. And now the government has proposed the mother of all subsidies -- vast tracts of land used by the poor."

Earlier, noted scientist M S Swaminathan, former Planning Commission member, C H Hanumantha Rao and Anil Agarwal wrote to Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao asking him to carefully consider the matter before taking any decisions.

The CSE and several other activists and organisations, including the National Committee for the Protection of Common Land Resources in Dharwad, Maharashtra's Vrikshamitra and Delhi's Indian Social Institute plan to continue their countrywide campaign through press conferences, meetings with legislators and public meetings with NGOs and activists. The ngos will again meet in Bangalore on August 26 at a seminar to be addressed by Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan.

People are urged to write to their local legislators, collectors and to the local press against the move. Further ideas and suggestions from readers are most welcome.

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