Published: Saturday 30 September 2000

People and forests

Your analysis 'The Nepalese experience' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 19; February 29) made interesting reading. Nepal has made tremendous progress in community forest management and it cannot be compared with India's Joint Forest Management programme.

While India claims to work in the direction of joint partnership with forest dwellers, the truth is that the partnership is loaded in favour of the government as far as exploitation of the forest resources is concerned. The present state of the forestry programme in India has been pathetic and exploitative, in which the overall environment of the country and the local people have been the losers -- the real beneficiary has been the forest bureaucracy.

India's forest laws, which were formulated during the British era, have neither regenerated forests nor helped the local people. The refusal to recognise people's traditional rights over forests and increasing population pressure have resulted in the marginalisation of the local people on one hand, and further environmental destruction on the other. Moreover, the sense of ownership, which compelled local people to conserve forest resources in the past, has vanished resulting in massive deforestation.

What is happening in Nepal today was being practised by people in India during the pre-colonial period. In olden times, the people were able to conserve the forest resource judiciously through their impeccable managerial capabilities and wealth of intimate and intricate local knowledge about flora, fauna, watercycle, climate and micro environmental variations. Their use and conservation of the environment is inextricably linked to their daily activities and survival of their culture and people thereby orienting local decisions to safeguard the needs of future generations. Is this not the goal of sustainable development which India has been struggling to achieve for years?

Any kind of forest management will not succeed in India until a sense of ownership of forest resources is instilled among the local people. The loss of territorial integrity and imposition of centralised development approach has destroyed the basic tenets of community partnership among a major segment of the population who still practice the environmentally-disastrous jhum (shifting) cultivation in the absence of any alternative means of livelihood.

Until a meticulously drawn rehabilitation programme or a community forest management on the lines of Nepalese programme is initiated, environmental degradation and marginalisation of local people will continue to grow. If India fails to take a few lesson from its past, it can at least learn something from the Nepalese experience....

Poisoned Punjab

I was moved by the article 'Is the joyride over? ( Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 6; August 15). An analogy can be drawn between what is happening in Punjab and the biological activity inside a huge compost pit. The microorganisms in the pit quickly consume the resource available, and in the process they multiply. A stage is reached when their numbers are so high they cannot bare the depletion of air and heat and die.
The same is the case of Punjab and for that matter for the whole of India. An increasing population is consuming natural resources at an unsustainable level. It is plain suicide. Various government departments are forcing farmers to multiply agricultural yields through the use of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, pumpsets, electricity, tubewells and dams. To begin with, production will be high, gradually it will decline. Punjab is a classic example. Once it was overflowing with grain, now alarming signs are all over -- infertile soil and crop failures. It is time for policymakers to review unsustainable agricultural practices....

Changing face

I found the article 'Japan at crossroads' ( Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 1; May 31) very interesting. The historical background of Japan's environmental conservation has been discussed in detail and presented in a very readable manner.

It is now clear that Japan is facing an environmental crisis. Though history tells us that the Japanese were environment lovers, the present global environment changes have led to an environmental crisis in Japan. The reasons might be different from those of other industrialised nations. But their traditional wisdom is sufficient to safeguard them against the environmental crisis....

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