the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (jbic) announced a Rs 560-crore loan to the Orissa State Forestry Sector Development Project on April 4, 2006. The state government had been negotiating for this loan since 1998-1999.
However, the decision is facing stiff opposition from communities that promote forests and from environmental groups in the state who are going on a massive protest from April 22. They allege that the loan would be "an additional burden" on the already ailing economy of Orissa.
"We don't understand the need for such a huge loan for the forestry sector, particularly when the Orissa forest department has miserably failed in implementing its earlier projects," says Laxmidhar Balia of Orissa Jungle Manch (ojm). ojm is a federation of self-initiated forest protection groups and represents at least 10,000 villages protecting about 750,500 hectares (ha) of forests without any external assistance.
The forest communities contend that earlier in the 1980s, the state government had taken Rs 167-crore loan from the Swedish International Development Agency (sida) for its social forestry programme. sida supported the programme from 1983 to 1996; but the forest department failed to achieve visible results.
But jbic is satisfied with the department's performance and says, "Around 50 per cent of the loan would be spent to strengthen communities involved in joint forest management and to reduce poverty." ojm dismisses the claim: "The loan in the name of forest protection is only a means of covering salaries." Besides, environmental groups are also against the project because it might affect sensitive coastal zones and fragile ecosystems like those in the Satkosia Gorge sanctuary.
Meanwhile, the Japan Centre for A Sustainable Environment and Society (jcases), a Japanese ngo that critically analyses all jbic investments, too has joined ojm's protest and threatened to take the issue to various international forums.
The forestry project aims to promote sustainable forest management and enhance poverty-alleviation in the project area, which covers 2,225,000 ha of forests. The project, according to chief minister Naveen Patnaik, will be implemented over the next seven years and will cover 11 forest divisions for forest management, one wildlife division for biodiversity conservation and two wildlife divisions for coastal plantations. Under the project, Rs 284 crore is for forest management including plantation of casuarinas and mangroves in coastal belts; Rs 223 crore is for capacity-building of forest protection societies and communities protecting forests; Rs 70 crore is for developing infrastructure, such as marketing facilities for minor forest produce; and Rs 12 crore is for biodiversity management and eco-tourism in five sites such as Satkosia Gorge sanctuary, Kotgad sanctuary and Lakhari Valley sanctuary.
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