Spotlight Activity: Draft Forest Policy 2018
The Government of India, on 14th March 2018, has circulated a new Draft Forest Policy for comments on the Internet. This Forest Policy will replace the existing Forest Policy promulgated in 1988. The 1988 Forest Policy signified a historic shift in India’s forest governance as it recognised primacy of ecological value of forests and the first claim of tribal and other forest dwelling communities over forests. The 1988 Policy was followed by the emancipatory Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, which recognised legal rights of tribals and forest dwellers over forests.
The 2018 Draft Forest Policy walks back on the gains of 1988 Forest Policy and the Forest Rights Act and seeks to go back to a state and private sector-based forest governance. It does recognise the challenges of “Climate Change” but its strategies have been criticised by conservationists, ecologists, tribals and community representatives. The main criticisms are: i) its use of climate change threats to recentralise power with the forest bureaucracy at the cost of communities; ii) its deliberate subversion of the landmark Forest Rights Act; and iii) it facilitates grabbing of burdened forest lands by private companies for industrial plantations.
The strategies of bureaucratically led large-scale afforestation and forest restoration with involvement of the private sector, will likely fail and lead to massive conflicts and wastage of scarce financial resources. The immense opportunity for climate change mitigation and adaptation through a rights based forest protection and restoration movement provided by the Forest Rights Act has been totally ignored in this new Forest Policy draft. Our assessment is supported by commentaries by the best Indian ecologists and forestry experts such as Madhav Gadgil, Ramchandra Guha, Sharad Lele and even serving foresters.
The Draft Forest Policy is a retrogressive, state-centered policy in intent, even as concepts like climate change and REDD+ are liberally sprinkled in the text. It is similar in intent and purposes to the Compensatory Afforestation Funds Act, 2016 scored by us last month, in that it seeks to enhance the control of forest departments over forests at the cost of communities. Given the past record of forest bureaucracy in India, there is little hope that this exclusionary, bureaucracy-centered forest policy will yield any positive results in mitigation and adaptation of climate change, and likely will have very negative outcomes.
Status: Falling Behind
The Draft Forest Policy 2018 has been given ONE STAR by the Climate Scorecard Project because it contains strategies for climate change mitigation which are unworkable; fails to recognise the rights of tribal and forest dweller communities of forests; promotes industrial plantations by the private sector that may impact India’s Paris Climate Goals negatively.
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