Civil Society Groups Criticize New Draft National Forest Policy, 2018
The civil society groups have said that the draft National Forest Policy 2018, despite some stated objectives, does not appear 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 fuelwood or fodder for communities), and facilitating forest-industry interface.
Reacting to the draft National Policy, 2018 that has been put up on the website for public comments by the government, the civil society groups have sought an explanation from the Ministry on as to why a draft policy written in collaboration with civil society was retracted, why no reference to such a draft is being made anywhere and why it had to be revised.
The reference to Forest Policy 1988 is a tokenism since there is no reason why the core perspectives, principles and strategies of the current policy are being watered down, with the proposed policy moving in a different direction, which is mainly about industry and forest department take-over, without any recognition that peoples protection efforts contributed to forest cover improving, the civil society has said.
Natural forests serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance. Such forests should not, therefore, be made available to industries for undertaking plantation and for any other activities. The total forest cover in 2017, even in a contested definition of forest cover is just 21.54% as against a target of 33% which makes it an absolute imperative that no diversion can take place.
Pointing out that for forest communities, forests are a source of their food, nutrition, livelihood, collective memory and a vital link between their past and present, the groups have said the draft Policy needs to recognize and lay adequate emphasis on the immense contribution of forests as food and nutrition producing habitats. Such a policy thrust will contribute to improve forest biodiversity, forest protection and also the indigenous forest-based economy and food cultures.. These foods are available round the year, equitably accessible to all and encompass the forest peoples life as a safety net, a source of vital nutrients, rare delicacies, cultural relatedness, and social rootedness. The prevalent market price of foods fails to fully capture its value as it saves lives during periods of food scarcity, prevents endemic malnutrition and provides important therapeutic solutions.
A recognition of womens contribution is clearly spelt out in the 1988 policy. Years later, a new legal regime also got set up around forest rights, through the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which is usually referred to as the Forest Rights Act or FRA. It is important that rights of indigenous communities and traditional forest dwellers as contained in FRA 2006 should be upheld to ensure that migrant encroachers in addition to corporate entities do not usurp these rights.
Agriculture in and around forests should be sustainable, devoid of any chemicals or transgenics, and based on regenerative agro-ecological principles. This has to be an integral part of any forest policy in the country, to sustain the forest as well as the farming eco-systems and the communities, the civil society groups have said.
India, through the existing Forest Policy of 1988 and FRA 2006, has the required correct perspectives towards forest management by providing ownership and management to adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, and in that sense, prioritized its forest policy thrust in a win-win approach for forests/wildlife and adivasis/traditional forest dwellers. State-managed forestry and revenue maximization by industry have already been relegated to a backseat and rightly so. In such a context, it is unclear why we need a new revised policy at all and why the forest department cannot work through the local institutions that FRA operates through, the CSOs have said in their response adding that they could speculate that this new policy draft is an exercise to provide a basis for CAF 2016, with the funding for implementation of the proposed policy coming from Compensatory Afforestation Funds.
We would like to say that the challenge being faced by the Government, as articulated in this draft Forest Policy, cannot be defined as finding a way out of an ecological disaster but rather as motivating the citizens of the nation and collaborating with them/supporting them to take charge of their responsibility to future generations, leaving a greener, cleaner, cooler and purer environment than what we have inherited. This latter approach is certainly possible and should be the main thrust, they have said.