Dismissing the Draft National Forest Policy over certain vital issues, members of the Himachal Van Adhikar Manch said the Union government should restrain on 'production forestry' and allowing the entry of private companies in forestry projects for commercial plantations.
The submission to this effect has been made to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), after the ministry sought the comments and suggestions recently.
Strikingly important in this draft policy is the absence of the perspective and recognition that was taken in the Forest Rights Act 2006, which seeks to address the historical injustice inflicted on the Adivasis and other forest dwellers, through the colonisation of the forest. The Act attempts to restore the forests back to its original custodians, caretakers and dependents, the adivasis and other forest dwelling people, and put in place democratic mechanisms to govern the forests, said the memorandum. The draft policy does not recognise this.
The policy comes close to the heels of another legislation called Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act which has created an institutional mechanism for the utilisation of funds realised in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose (development projects). The objective is to mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land for dams, mines, industries and such projects.
"In Himachal where close to 70 per cent of the geographical area is under forest land the implementation of FRA has been poor and forest land dependent people are being evicted by being lavelled as encroachers. Moves like CAMPA and 2018 forest policy will further alienate people from forests and lead to conflict - as the forest department and private corporations take on plantation drives in forests where people are already dependent," adds Manshi Asher of NGO-Himdhara Collective, also a signatory to submissions rejecting the draft.
The draft National Forest Policy, 2018 claims that there has been an increase in forest and tree cover over the last decades and a "reduction in the diversion of forest land for other land uses despite compelling demands from the increasing population, industrialization and rapid economic growth". However Forest Report 2017 which describes forest cover changes in the country and concludes that there is one per cent increase in the forest cover, there is no separate data for plantations and forests making it difficult to understand the actual extent of deforestation of natural forests, as well as the hidden diversion of forestland to industries.
However, the current diversion of forest lands to various "development" schemes is fast changing the landscape especially degrading natural forests. According to survey by the Delhi-based environment group, Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the Indian government has, on an average, diverted 122 sq km of forests for development projects every year between 2014 and 2017. This is equivalent to forest land the size of 63 football grounds being cleared every day for three years (around 135 hectares of natural forest land is lost to development schemes on an average per day).
"Natural forests serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance. These forests need to be protected'. However, the draft National Forest Policy 2018, despite stating this objective, appears not to be for conservation and regeneration of forests but for capture of forests by private, corporate entities through PPPs, production forestry, increasing productivity of plantations, production of quality timber (and not fuel wood or fodder for communities), facilitating forest-industry interface. Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, condemned the draft and said that it is facilitating the entry of the private sector in forestry.
"Private sector works for profit and profit alone. The only way we understand that forests can be protected is by making those located closest to the forest incharge and strengthening sustainable forest based livelihoods', Manch convenor Akshay Jasrotia added. UNI XC RJ 1635
-- (UNI) -- C-1-DL0067-1331421.Xml