MEF stumped

State governments badger the MEF to implement its own proposal of industrial plantations in degraded forests

By Anumita Roychowdhury
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Hectares of stumps: over to in THE Union ministry of environment and forests (MEF) begged for a dose of its own medicine. Having forwarded a proposal to allow industrial plantations in degraded forest land, it is now under intense pressure from various state governments to clear their schemes. The latest in the queue is the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government, which is knocking on the MEF's doors with a proposal for industrial plantations on 1,600,000 ha of land, which, it claims, lies degraded.

Insiders in the MEF say that although eager to go ahead, the ministry itself is waiting for the public outcry against the proposal to die out. The inspector general of forests, M F Ahmed, however, says cautiously, "It is not for us to say yes or no. Ultimately, everything will depend on the Union Cabinet." However, he refused to hazard a guess as to when the decision is likely to come through.

While the MP government is clamouring about the MEF's years of procrastination, officials in the ministry retort that this is the first time in the past 3 years that the state has actually come up with any concrete proposal.

The proposal is well-padded against possible public protests. The government claims that it would allow private sector plantation but "keep biodiversity conservation as its top priority". The selection of species would ostensibly be undertaken by the State Forest Development Corporation (SFDC), which will mediate between industry and local committees. The SFDC will charge 2 per cent of the revenue generated for supervising the selection of plant species.

The state government says that the scheme would allow private entrepreneurs to retain 60 per cent of their earnings. The rest would go to local forest development committees, which would decide how to spend the money.

Evidently, the fact that the present MEF regime has negated the 1988 forest policy, which had refused any industrial claims on forest lands, has emboldened the state governments.

However, these measures will be implemented in a climate of vigorous popular protest; people are more aware today of the issues involved than they were 7 years ago. Therefore, such nebulous provisions as setting aside a part of the land for fodder and fuelwood plantation, allowing people to lop trees, and obtaining the consent of the gram sabha for raising industrial plantations, have been built into the MEF's own proposed policies as ready firefighting measures.

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