Green Credit Rules will negatively impact forest ecology, say experts

Former forest official alleges Centre wants to facilitate ‘ease of business’

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Tuesday 27 February 2024
The Green Credit Rules name grasslands among other ecotypes. They are home to endemic and ecologically important species such as blackbuck. Photo: iStock

The recently published Green Credit Rules are “disastrous” and “detrimental” to ecological aspects of forests, experts have pointed out.

The Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has notified the rules which direct state forest departments to ‘identify degraded land parcels’ — including open forest and scrubland, wasteland and catchment areas — under their administrative control and management.

These shall be made available for tree plantation to promote activities for increasing green cover across India for the purpose of generating green credits under the said Rules.

Debadityo Sinha, senior resident fellow and lead (Climate & Ecosystems) at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said the Rules are “unscientific and completely disregard the ecological aspects of forests”.

“Using terms such as ‘degraded’ for scrubland, open forests and catchment areas is vague and in a way, incentivises industrial scale plantation in such areas,” he added.

Sinha posted on his X (formerly Twitter) handle that incentivising plantations in such areas will irreversibly alter soil quality, replace local biodiversity and might be disastrous for local ecosystem services.

study published in the journal Nature Sustainability titled Divergent responses of soil organic carbon to afforestation (2020), had noted that large-scale afforestation — considered as an effective natural climate remedy — can, in turn, do more harm than good.

The research stated that afforestation increased density of organic carbon in areas having carbon-poor soils. However, soils rich in carbon lost their density.

Sinha said a forest’s ecology consisted of the forest floor made up of soil and small herbs, shrubs and medium-height plants, in addition to the canopy made up of tall trees.

The small herbs and shrubs offer resilience to the forest from surface runoff, maintain soil moisture, preserve seeds for forest regeneration and provide habitats for many animals, including insects, reptiles, birds, herbivores and carnivores.


A botanist based out of Pune said grasslands, often referred to as ‘wastelands’ play an important ecological role to protect and conserve rare and unique biodiversity. “For example, there are many land patches in the Western Ghats that look barren or wastelands such as the Kaas plateau. But they are home to endemic and ecologically important species,” the researcher said.

Research shows that grasslands have more capacity to sequester carbon, compared to forests.

Trishant Dev, programme officer at the Centre for Science and Environment’s climate change programme, told Down To Earth (DTE), “The allocation of green credits for tree plantation is challenging. The Green Credits Programme, which was announced last year, included various activities beyond just tree planting.”

Dev added that with the new notification, considering that green credits are primarily tied to tree numbers (i.e. one green credit per tree grown), ensuring fungibility (ability of a good or asset to be interchanged with other individual goods or assets of the same type) with credits from other activities such as water harvesting remains unclear.

Moreover, the scientific rationale behind assigning ‘credits’ based on the quantity of trees is unclear. Tree species vary greatly in their ecological impact and functionality, raising questions about the effectiveness of such a metric, he said.

“The Green Credits Rules are MoEFCC’s endeavour to create a land bank for easy and quick diversions. They will facilitate ‘ease of doing business’ for user agencies,” Prakriti Srivastava, former principal chief conservator of forests, Kerala, claimed to DTE.

She added that this is being done at the cost of ecological considerations and conservation requirements and will end up degrading and deteriorating the ecological integrity of the country while benefitting user agencies. 

“Open forest systems should not be considered as ‘degraded’. This will be detrimental, especially for India’s savannas,” Abi Vanak, director, Centre for Policy Design, ATREE, told DTE.

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