Published: Monday 15 May 2006

Forest is not just timber

As a forest officer, I agree with the drift of the article 'Private affairs' (Down To Earth, April 15, 2006), subtly opposing use of degraded forest land for supply of timber to forest-based industry.

Aside from the statistical analysis made in the article, the following points on policy should be given a thought:

For long, forests have been managed with the focus on timber. As a result, industry rather than people have been always the centre of attraction

Even today, the management prescription for forests is aimed towards converting them into productive forests from the point of view of large timber, while minor forest produce or small household timber (including bamboo) are neglected

So far as greed and monopoly of industry over forestland is concerned, even today industrialists somehow manage to procure the outputs by forming cartels and monopolising the process of government auctions

Forests are meant to be preserved in their most diverse forms inclusive of flora, fauna and traditional values attached to them (it appears fauna and the wild part of forests have been overlooked in the draft as well as your critique)

Industry should technologically strive to gain the maximum out of the farmers' land, which tends to be redundant on account of freely available forest land resources.

Tapesh Jha

The confusion created by textbook environmentalists has misled the government time and again and prevented it from putting a part of our degraded forestlands to some productive purpose. Critics opposing use of a fraction of the forest wasteland for raising wood required for pulp and panel industries should ponder on some of the problems faced by wood-based industries. Here are the hard facts:

Annual drain of foreign exchange for import of pulp, waste paper and such products is nearly Rs 8,000 crore per annum

An effective 'greening India' programme would require Rs 10,600 crore per annum at the wage rate and price index of 2005

Actual investment on afforestation in the Tenth Five-Year Plan is a measly Rs 300 crore per year. Even this investment is made mainly on community lands or degraded lands made available to joint forest management committees

As a principle, if the community is accepted as a stakeholder, why keep the organised sector off forest-based industries as non-stakeholders?

The need of the hour is to make use of our land resources for generation of goods and services to create more employment

The industry should be allowed to grow what they want in order to cut down on imports. Why not allow use of just 4-5 per cent of our degraded forests, when the bulk of such lands are still available for meeting the social obligations to the community?

A d koli

Apropos of the editorial 'The poor? They are the government's problem' (Down To Earth, April 15, 2006), the multi-sta.

Saving the tiger

Sunderban, the abode of the tiger, is a neglected region. The uncontrolled population growth from 1.2 million in 1951 census to 3.9 million in 2001 census is mainly responsible for the backwardness of the region and the near total dependence of people on the natural resources of mangrove ecosystem.

A local poacher turned conservationist, Pradip Mondal, rightly said increase in family size has led to the destruction of the Sunderban area.The increasing pressure on land has increased the dependence on forests and this has led to depletion and destruction of forest resources. Millions of people depend on Sunderban ecosystem for their livelihood and sustenance through fishing, collection of honey and fuelwood/timber and their number is growing every year. Any plan to protect and conserve the Sunderban forest thus has to focus on the problem of uncontrolled population growth. The sustainable population figure for the Sunderban ecosystem is a matter of debate.

The poor people in Sunderban area are ignorant about modern family planning methods. The absence of medical centres in this region makes government intervention in this area difficult and increases the dependence of the population on quacks and untrained ayahs (nurses). ngos can play a role in this by helping villagers get access to voluntary family planning.

In spite of limited resources, the work done by the government and ngos like wwf in the Sunderban is commendable and has been successful in protecting the Royal Bengal Tiger and the fragile ecosystem in this region. But a lot more needs to be done. I think any conservation plan to protect nature and wildlife will not succeed if voluntary family planning is not integrated in the project plan. Growing human numbers will derail every plan to conserve nature and wildlife and thus the onus falls on the government and ngos to spread the gospel of voluntary population control.

Vivek Baid

Down To Earth welcomes letters, responses and other contributions from readers. We particularly welcome you to join issues and share your opinion with others. Send to Sunita Narain, Editor, Down To Earth, 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi - 110 062. Email: editor@downtoearth.org.in...

Pick of the postbag

Going soft on soft drinks
This is with reference to the slashing of custom and excise duty to the extent of 8 per cent on soft drinks in the 2006-2007 budget presented by finance minister P Chidambaram. The finance minister, on the other hand, has increased excise duty on cigarettes to discourage smoking as it is injurious to health.

Today, it is a well-established fact that all soft drinks are injurious to health in the long run. The presence of pesticide residues (made known to the public earlier by the Centre for Science and Environment) in the colas has aggravated the problem. The consumption of colas causes multiple health problems like removing enamel of the teeth and dissolving calcium of the bones making them brittle. The international soft drinks companies in India sold as much as four billion litres of their products in 2005.

The reduction in duty on soft drinks shows that the present government is not serious about the health of the children and youth who are the major consumers of aerated drinks. Instead of thinking of improving ties with multinationals, the government's first priority should be the health of the citizens.

Dinkar O Garg


Poor are unwanted
The situation in the Manali region of Himachal seems grave.

What is disturbing is that many big hydro-electric projects have started within a 50 km radius of Manali, such as Malana 126 MW, Parvati 2051 MW and Larji 126 MW. In addition to these, the work on Rohtang tunnel may also begin. The Himalayan Ski Village and Malana II 100 MW project are in the pipeline. The total impact of all these projects is immeasurable.

Our country was known for its poverty but people used to be happy. By encroaching into their villages and forests, that divine joy is also taken away. I think the poor are unwanted.

In short, all this is unsustainable development. Can all these projects feed the people like their agricultural land fed them for generations?

The world and India are moving forward but in what direction?

Elias P

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