Restoring greenery

The national mission for green India, which was approved and cleared by the Union cabinet, should help to improve and increase the country’s diminishing forest cover.

The importance of forests, in terms of ecology and the economy, has been much underlined in public discourse but actual efforts to protect them and revive what has been lost have been wanting. Non-government organisations and individuals have drawn attention to the need for concerted efforts but the results have been poor. The problem of encroachment of forests and their degradation is as old as the hills. There is only about 2.54 per cent dense forest area in the country. There are some more areas covered by degraded forests. This is below the norms in ecological terms. A parliamentary committee recently pointed out that the country has continued to lose forest cover and the national afforestation programme launched 10 years ago has not had any impact. The new mission should make a positive difference where earlier programmes have failed.

The proposed mission envisages an expenditure of Rs 46,000 crore over the next 10 years out of which Rs 13,000 crore will be spent during the 12th Plan period. There is criticism that the allocation is not enough to meet the requirement but effective utilisation will hold the key to better results. The plan is to increase forest cover on five million hectares and improve the quality of forest cover in another five million hectares. It is conceived as a joint programme in which the Centre will provide 75 per cent of the funds to most states and 90 per cent to others. There is promise of setting targets and monitoring of the progress of the mission and these should be undertaken seriously.

A big national programme like this can be implemented successfully only with grassroots level involvement and co-operation. Participation of gram sabhas and forest management committees has been envisaged for this. The attitude of the forest bureaucracy and  conflicting laws have been found to be obstacles in the working of afforestation programmes and prevention of deforestation. Politics and business interests have also been negative factors. There should be sensitivity to the livelihood needs of forest dwellers in any forest management plan. Climate change concerns have recently added to the worry over the depletion of forests. There is better awareness about the value and role of forests now and the mission should become a people’s programme tapping this strength.

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