TODAY -

India's Forest policy 2018 & concerns in Manipur

Jiten Yumnam *

 3rd Flower Festival / Manipur's 1st Cherry Blossom Festival at Kayinu Village, Mao :: 26th - 28th November 2017
Manipur's 1st Cherry Blossom Festival at Kayinu Village, Mao in November 2017 :: Pix - Kriti RK



Introduction: There's much controversy as the Government of India initiated the process of revamping its national forest policy, 1988. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published the Draft National Forest Policy 2018 in early 2018. Once finalized, the policy will guide the forest management of India for the next 25-30 years.

The new draft policy's overall goal is to safeguard the ecological and livelihood security of people, of the present and future generations, based on sustainable management of the forests for the flow of ecosystem services.

In the hills and mountainous regions, the policy's goal is also to maintain two-thirds of the area under forest and tree cover to prevent soil erosion, land degradation and for stability of the fragile ecosystems. There's question if the new policy will reverse the trend of shrinking forest cover or the rethinking of the unsustainable development processes pursued in Manipur.

Earlier in 2016, a draft policy published on the MoEFCC website was taken down after wide objections for excluding the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and for its overt focus on commercial forestry.

The context and philosophy of the formulation of the Forest Policies in India have not changed, ever since the British colonizers first introduced the Forest Policy for their colonial and exploitation motives. The policy has failed to recognize and advance indigenous peoples rights over their forest land.

The sections called 'Rights and Concessions' and 'Tribal People and Forests' in the Forest policy, 1988 have been replaced by 'Production Forestry', 'Increase productivity of forest plantations' and 'Facilitate forest industry' etc. The draft also stressed the "need to stimulate growth in the forest based industry sector" and encourages forest corporations and industrial units to "step up industrial plantations". [1]

These new terminology indicates the policy perceived forest not as giver of life, not as sustaining the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples, but as an economic commodity, something that can be sold, purchased and traded.

The policy excludes factors of forest land alienation in India's North East region and beyond, such as in Manipur. The policy while referring to forest as "essential for survival of the human beings", asserted the role of forests in mitigating climate change through a market oriented model.

Ignoring forest Diversion for Non-Forestry purposes: The new draft guidelines completely ignore widespread forest diversions for non-forestry purposes. The draft problematically asserted that there has been an increase in forest and tree cover and reduction in the diversion of forest land despite loss of forest due to industrialization, urbanization and pursuit for economic development. [2]

In 2013, an RTI application by environmental lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary revealed that India, on an average, loses 135 hectares of natural forest land per day to development projects and schemes.

Dutta and Choudhary say that in 2017 alone, the government has passed about 10,000 approvals and clearances related to forest diversions for mega projects, including mega hydropower project constructions, oil exploration, mining concessions and infrastructure projects etc, that already led to massive diversion of forest land.

Manipur also witnessed massive diversion of forest land due to the aggressive push for large scale and unsustainable projects. At least 595 Hectares of Forest land had been diverted for Mapithel dam.

In Manipur, indigenous communities affected by the Mapithel Dam of the Thoubal Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, during the according of "Forest Clearance" on 31 December 2013 after thirty three years of project approval, urged upon the Government of India to implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006 to ensure project authorities comply requirements to take 'consent' of affected communities through their traditional institutions.

The recommendation of the Forest Departments of Manipur and Mizoram to divert 27,000 hectares and 1370 hectares of Forest land in Manipur and Mizoram to be submerged for the 1500 MW Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project only indicates the ever preparedness to sacrifice forest land in the pretext of economic development.

The diversion of 1,005.055 hectares (ha) of forest land for construction of 111 km long Jiribam-Tupul-Impal railway line in Manipur has been recommended by FAC despite the clear violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 by the Railway authorities and the Government of Manipur. The diversion of forest was carried out in an exclusive process.

The proposed plans to build nearly Fifteen mega Dams over the Barak River, Irang River, Leimatak River, etc and the proposed extensive plan for oil exploration and drilling and mining of Chromium and Limestone will entail wide destruction of forest land.

The violation of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Forest Rights Act, 1980 is rampant in Manipur, such as in the case of forest clearances for Mapithel dam, challenged in the National Green Tribunal for the violations.

Even the diversion of forest under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 is also marked by furnishing false information, such as indicating the inhabition of Maram community in Chandel and Tengnoupal Districts in the case of forest diversion for ADB financed Imphal to Moreh road.

The Forest diversion processes by corporate bodies like Vedanta, NHPC, Jubilant Energy, Tata, Birla, Canaro etc across India's North East and Central India pursued with aggressive militarization, which itself is another source of loss of forest in Manipur.

Communities challenging forest diversion are also subjected to mistreatment or threats and direct violation of their rights under various criminal laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, the National Security Act, 1980 etc.

Forest to mitigate Climate change: The draft policy clearly focused on the role of forest for climate change mitigation, albeit in a market based model. The draft policy lists other objectives, including the maintenance of environmental stability, conservation of biodiversity, meeting India's greening goals for Climate change mitigation and adaptation under its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) . [3]

In its INDC, India has committed to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion to 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. India's objectives under INDC is a clear perception of Forest as a commodity for exploitation and a subject of market based climate change solution targeting forest areas.

The draft mentions integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation through REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries).

The proposal of REDD + model as solution climate change is criticized for its market oriented model of climate change and caused controversies within indigenous territories worldwide, for denying access to their own forest. The draft stressed on the need for biodiversity conservation and enhancing forest ecosystem services.

Industrial forestry: The draft policy emphasized on community forest management, but promoted private sector participation in forest management, through "Public-private participation models to undertake afforestation and reforestation activities in degraded forest areas and forest areas.

Section 4.4 suggested to "Facilitate forest industry interface" and to stimulate growth in the forest based industry sector and suggested forest corporations and industrial units need to step up growing of industrial plantations for meeting the demand of raw material. These clauses will be invoked to hand over large tracts of 'reserved forests' to private corporations . [4]

The draft policy in Section 4 (d) insisted on promotion of commercially viable species like teak, sal, sisham, poplar, eucalyptus, casuarina etc, which are known to be water-demanding species with deep root systems, depleting groundwater. The focus to promote agro forestry to meet wood demand and for climate resilience as outlined in 4.1.2. (a) would mean conversion of agriculture land to plantations or mono cropping's.

In 2016, the Karnataka government had blamed eucalyptus trees for depleting groundwater in the Arkavathi basin. The Timber oriented forest management will intensify destruction of forest, and loss of livelihood of communities. The urge to earn more profits by timber corporations and conflicting interests will undermine indigenous peoples' livelihood. The Government is simply facilitating the capture of peoples' forests by corporate bodies.

Undermining FRA and consultation processes: The Draft National Forest Policy, 2018 is inconsistent with the Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA 2006), enacted to specifically correct "historical injustice to the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers".

The draft suggested setting up of two National Community Forest Management (CFM) Mission and National Board of Forestry (NBF)—for management of the country's forests . [5]

The suggested proposal to strengthen participatory Forest management and forest management plan under the proposed National Community Forest Management Mission will undermine the community ownership of forest.

And there is no plan to take the free, prior and informed consent of communities living with forest. The draft and the new NDFM amounts to MoEFCC attempting to over-ride and sidestep statutory obligations to recognize forest rights and for traditional decision making framework, outlined in Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The proposed plan to formulate new regulations and legislations under the new policy (4.8) is intended to negate FRA, 2006 and to reject other regulatory mechanisms, viz National Green Tribunal. The Joint Forest Management propounded by the World Bank earlier has been criticized for its focus on conservation thus restricting community access to forest.

Conclusions: The Govt see the policy as a key to industrialization in India. The policy, if accepted and not stopped, will bulldoze all set of rights conferred to indigenous peoples, such as in Forest Rights Act, 2006. The new policy is formulated even as existing policies and acts remains hardly implemented. The punitive clause for violation is extremely weak.

Affected villagers of Mapithel Dam in Manipur are compelled to complaint in the National Green Tribunal after project authorities failed to take the Forest Clearance for the project. The draft National Forest Policy 2018 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 facilitating forest-industry interface.

The new Forest policy of 2018 will further legitimize the corporate transfer with market based false climate change solution like REDD+, allowing private sector management of forest land, allowing industrial plantation etc.

The current policy draft will facilitate massive afforestation: one by providing funds and the other providing the necessary legal space, but with commercially oriented invasive timber species harmful to the local ecology . [6]

Any policy needs to have a strong punitive or accountability mechanism for those violating forest rights. The lack of a punitive component for those violating forest rights acts, but rather promoting / advancing the rights of those causing maximum damage to forest, dam building, mining companies, carbon traders and other corporations etc, is a major concern in the forest policy.

There is crucial need to review the limitations of the existing forest laws and need to insert clauses to strengthen community role and rights in the forest management and to ensure guaranteeing their rights before any diversion of forest.

The nexus between State and corporate bodies in the guise of democracy led to increased assault on land and forest, threatening their survival. Indigenous peoples revered forest and considers forest as sacred.

The colonial interpretation of land and forest, as property for exploitation, for profit making will further be reinforced. The forest policy will have disastrous impact on indigenous peoples in Manipur and beyond. The draft forest policy, 2018 is a systematic pattern of dilution of laws, to remove any semblance of protection of community rights over forest and to legalize and corporatization of forest.

The policy will also allow increased assault on indigenous peoples land and forest with unsustainable and destructive mega projects like extractive industries, hydropower projects, oil exploration etc by undermining community rights over their forest.

The draft forest policy needs to be withdrawn for its overt commodification of forest, which are intrinsic survival sources for indigenous peoples. Indigenous community rights over forest and land should be recognized and promoted.

References:

1 "National Forest Policy Draft 2018 Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back", 2 April 2018, Sushant Agarwal
https://thewire.in/environment/national-forest-policy-draft-2018-takes-one-step-forward-two-steps-back

2 "Why India’s draft national forest policy needs an urgent course correction", 9 April 2018, the Live Mint
https://www.livemint.com/Politics/vWEeMB1KZvvE2VzvJ0zv9I/Why-Indias-draft-national-forest-policy-needs-an-urgent-cou.html

3 "India’s new forest policy draft draws criticism for emphasis on industrial timber", by S. Gopikrishna Warrier on 12 April 2018, Mongabay
https://news.mongabay.com/2018/04/indias-new-forest-policy-draft-draws-criticism-for-emphasis-on-industrial-timber/

4 A blow from an axe: Ramachandra Guha on India’s new forest policy, 16 April 2018, the Ecologise.In
https://www.ecologise.in/2018/04/16/a-blow-from-an-axe-ramachandra-guha-on-indias-new-forest-policy/

5 "Government unveils draft national forest policy", the Live Mint, 17 March 2018
https://www.livemint.com/Politics/YKRe5VogEJnpFzUdFKU0QJ/Government-unveils-draft-national-forest-policy.html

6 "National Forest Policy Draft 2018 Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back", the Wire, Sushant Agarwal, 2 April 2018
https://thewire.in/environment/national-forest-policy-draft-2018-takes-one-step-forward-two-steps-back


* Jiten Yumnam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is with Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRAM), and can reached at cra(DOT)manipur(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on June 04 2019.



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