Environmentalists see red over draft national forest policy

Environmentalists see red over draft national forest policy

Environmentalists are up in arms against the Centre's proposed National Forest Policy, 2018, that stresses on "monetisation of the forests" rather than protecting the rights of the tribes that live in the jungles for centuries.

Forest communities are worried about the provisions in this draft policy on public-private partnerships, which they fear may lead to leasing out of forest lands, traditionally used by them, to private firms for monoculture that are meant to feed industrial requirements.

"The draft policy places a lot of emphasis on increasing productivity (even in natural forests in addition to plantations), and that too in a monetised framework. A strong thrust has been put on forward linkages with industry, especially in terms of plantations (including agroforestry and farm forestry). For whose benefit such a market-oriented paradigm has been framed in the draft policy," the greens wrote in a protest letter to the Union environment and forest ministry which sought public comment on the draft policy.

Nearly 140 non-governmental organisations have written to the green ministry asking the government to withdraw the proposed document.

The NGOs received the support of the CPM, which also demanded a withdrawal of the draft policy.

"The draft policy is, in essence, a blueprint to commercialise forests to serve the interests of industry and to bring in the private sector for the actual management of forests through the so-called public-private partnership model," the Left party had stated in a statement.

Another worrisome feature in the new policy is an idea to create a new legal structure for "participatory forest management" without any reference to the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

The policy carries a provision that explicitly threatens the edifice of the existing forest rights legislation as it suggests "participatory forest management" through a proposed community forest management mission, bypassing the legislation passed by the UPA-1 government.

If implemented, the policy would reduce gram sabha, a legally recognised body, to be subordinated to the forest department-controlled body, acting to a plan, decided in Delhi or in the state capitals, and is far from the realities of forest conservation.

"This highly objectionable proposal undoes whatever little has been achieved in making tribal communities and gram sabhas as the central pivot in forest management policies," stated the CPM that supported the Congress-ruled UPA-1 government for five years.

The new draft is an attempt at revising the 1988 forest policy that mandated nearly one-third of India would be under forest and tree cover.

According to the 2017 State of Forest Report released in February 2018, less than 25% of India is covered with forests and trees.

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