Aim for natural regeneration of forests, NGOs tell government

Vijay Pinjarkar, Times News Network, Apr 13 2018

Link to the news article

With two days left for submitting objections and suggestions on the Draft National Forest Policy-2018, several leading NGOs in country have emphasized the need for its recast in the larger interest of the nation.
The draft NFP disappoints on several counts as ideas like compensatory afforestation, catchment area treatment and Joint Forest Management (JFM) have been included in it in spite of massive evidence on their failures documented by CAG, parliamentary panels and other independent assessments.

In his submission to MoEFCC, KM Chinnappa, trustee, Wildlife First, Bengaluru, suggested stopping indiscriminate diversion of forest land for ill-planned developmental projects. “Forest fragmentation has devastating impacts and disrupts landscape connectivity, creates new edges, eliminates rare species and leads to steady degradation of habitat and increased human-wildlife conflict. Hence, policy should aim at consolidating such blocks, he said.

Wildlife First, which is working for conservation since 1995, said the draft policy was bereft of knowledge-driven solutions that have the potential to balance the competing needs of conservation and development. A large part of CAMPA fund must be applied for various forest consolidation activities/projects and not wasted on raising plantations.

Even Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust (CAT), Mumbai, suggested strict implementation of land for land policy for all FCA proposals. On sustainable management of forests chapter, he suggested to also include “large projects like dams, mining, windmills, linear intrusions like roads, canals, transmissions lines, railway lines, instead of word grazing.”

In his submission, another trustee of Wildlife First Praveen Bhargav suggested new monitoring system as current regime of online forest clearance system gives ample scope for exploitation by unscrupulous project proponents in collusion with authorities involved. Since most violations are clearly intentional, without timely detection, as is the situation now, there is little or no scope for rectification later.

Satpuda Foundation president Kishor Rithe said the NFP draft covered several forestry issues under various objectives, but it failed to address how these objectives would be achieved. Rithe in his submission expressed concern over unbridled diversion of forest land for projects. “In the last 30 years, 14,000 sqkm of forest have been diverted. The draft policy is not clear how it will stop such diversions,” he said.

Suggesting improvement of forest cover and consolidation of habitats and corridors, Bhargav said, “It is extremely important to ensure we recover natural forests that are degraded and not create monoculture plantations with exotic trees in such degraded forests/natural scrub forests/ natural grasslands as is being done now.”

On essential principles of forest management, Goenka said “productivity” should be changed to “ecosystem services”. He submitted that while undertaking measures to increase forest cover, existing eco-systems like grasslands, desert, mudflats, etc should not be changed into forest areas. “Ideally, natural regeneration should be encouraged by protecting land from grazing,” he said.

CAT submitted “there should be no regularization of existing encroachments whilst clearly demarcating the forest boundaries. Shifting cultivation and leasing of forest lands to private entities should be completely banned.”

Rithe said India’s total forest cover was 7.08 lakh sqkm, which was 21.54% of the geographic area. In last 30 years, at least 15,000 sqkm forest area had fallen prey to encroachments. This tendency has expedited, especially after FRA 2006. “We have suggested various measures to stop it,” he said.

On commercial extraction of forest produce, the draft policy regrettably is advocating promotion of “market-oriented approach embedded in sustainability” as part of business plans. “We have submitted the NFP must promote conservation of forests above all else. We urge a complete rethink and recast of the policy to promote non-timber forest produce (NTFPs) for business under the veil of sustainability,” says Chinnappa.

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