Table of Contents
SHIELDING INDIA’S GREEN HERITAGE: STRATEGIES AND POLICIES
Forest conservation is a critical part of saving and restoring the environment to its former glory. Forests cover a significant area of the world and are extremely important to maintain the ecosystem of the planet. India being a country full of rich forests and wildlife and values its diverse landscape, and wishes to conserve the same with proper bills and acts. Keeping this in mind, the Indian government introduced the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The Act controls the use of forests for non-forest activities and does not allow undertaking mining, industry, and infrastructure building without approval from the central government. Under the Act, a committee has also been formed to advise the government regarding diversion projects. The Act is an attempt to preserve the country’s wildlife and plantation from rapid industrialisation and development.
FOREST (CONSERVATION) AMENDMENT BILL, 2023
On July 26, 2023, the Lok Sabha passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, urged by the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Shri Bhupender Yadav. The amendment clearly states that only those forests come under the conservation act which was recorded in government records, on or following 25 October 1980. All other areas of forests and wildlife will be open to commercial use causing massive disarray among people, especially the northeastern citizens of the country. This will exclude 28% of Indian forests that have not been recorded under the RFAs (Recorded Forest Areas) by the Forest Survey of India (FSI).
Northeastern states, harbouring one of the richest forests and wildlife on the planet, will be the hardest hit by afforestation and the building of commercial dams and infrastructure since they have not been listed under any act of the government. Unclassed forest areas in the northeast are communally or privately owned which makes their inclusion more difficult and the act stays silent on the rights of tribal communities over forest areas.
Another matter of discrepancy includes the 100 km exclusion of forests. The government has stated that there is no longer a need for forests within 100 km of the line of control or international borders to give way to the construction of security and surveillance measures. This covers almost all of the Northeastern states and leads to the forests losing their protection. These decisions have been taken without considering the Sixth Schedule and Article 371 which protect the community-owned areas.
The Act has led to confusion regarding the implications on previously passed bills and criticism has risen of the central government’s decision to have the power to convert forest areas into commercial or military zones under their own will while the state government has to consult the centre. The Act will come into effect on December 1, 2023.
NEED FOR FOREST CONSERVATION IN INDIA
Most forests in India host a wide range of plants and animals and need protection to preserve the endangered and almost extinct species. Forests also serve as cover for wildlife which may not be able to survive given the clearing of forests.
Forests play an important role in reversing climate change. India is a country with extreme climatic conditions, and trees are crucial to reduce temperature and serve as an attempt to reverse the effects of global warming.
SUPPORT FOR TRIBAL COMMUNITIES
Many tribal as well as non-tribal communities depend on forests for their livelihood, cultivation of food as well and cultural practices. Forest conservation is an important way to protect their rights and ensure that the traditional, religious, and cultural history of such diverse groups of the country is maintained and protected.
India is known for its traditional medicines and medicinal herbs. Ayurveda is a rapidly growing industry with demand from all over the world. Not only is the preservation of culture and tradition important, but it also increases India’s standing in Global trade with this uniqueness.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EFFECTIVE CONSERVATION
Conserving forests requires immense backing from the government and the legal framework. Better strategies created with the help of ecologists as well as policymakers will result in better and clearer reservation and classification of forests. Sustainable goods produced from forests and ecosystems should be preserved. Penalties and fines should be ensured against citizens who harm these reserves.
INVOLVING THE COMMUNITY
The government should make amends with the tribal and other communities and work with them to come up with policies that benefit both parties. Understanding their way of living and economy would help the government formulate better laws that align with the needs of these communities and in turn would get immense help in conservation and protection of land.
Practising reforestation to make up for deforestation in different areas is an effective measure yet to be taken by the government. The required funds for the same can be aided from the public or sourced internationally. Only allowing the construction of unavoidable infrastructure and then making up for the cleared trees by planting more is also an interesting approach.
MANAGING PROTECTED AREAS
Managing the reserved and protected forest area well can be a huge challenge but if undertaken properly can result in the generation of revenue while getting the benefits of preserving the ecosystem. There is a need to ensure proper staffing and infrastructure to manage, protect, and overlook all areas. Strengthening the management of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and other areas also come under this category.
While The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 is a step backward from preserving wildlife and the Indian ecosystem, having hope in the government and undertaking correct steps may lead to better judgments and policies in the future. What is important is the people’s and community’s spirit regarding these important sustainable and green earth strategies.
Author: Jasleen Kaur Palne