This article is written by Sakshi Khulve.
What we are doing to the forests of the world is a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.
– Mahatma Gandhi.
Table of Contents
In the present era of industrialization and development, a huge price has been paid by the entire world in the form of forest degradation. Our dependence on forest is much more than has been assessed so far. We are dependent on forests for food, fodder, timber, oxygen, carbon sequestration, medicine, cosmetics and so on. The need for fossil fuels has led to the high carbon content in the atmosphere and trees are the only source that purifies the air naturally. Forest also provides home to eighty percent of the terrestrial species which includes birds, wildlife, varieties of plants and also the tribal people living in the forest. Preservation of forests requires targeted efforts which include sustainable management and conservation of forests. This attempt to foster ecological growth and efficient land use has been well incorporated in Goal fifteen of Sustainable Development Goals.
Globally thirty-one percent of land area is dominated by forests. One-third of which comprises primary forest, which means regeneration of forest occurs naturally without human involvement. It is also important to note that half of the world’s forest is based in only five countries which include Russia, USA, Brazil, China and Canada. Currently, the forests all over the world are still degrading though the rate of degradation has lowered in the past decade as the countries are realizing the importance of forest and through various programs and policies are contributing to the safekeeping of the forest. Activities such as mining, agriculture, building, grazing and so on have led to forests being lost. The natural process of regeneration will take a lot of time therefore this paper focuses on restorations methods which are feasible for the restoration of the forests.
India on forest protection and regeneration
As per the India State of Forest Report, 2019, the total forest cover is 24.56 % of the land cover of the country which in numbers is 80.73 million hectares. There has been an increase of 5188 sq. km of forest and tree cover since the last assessment report. In terms of area Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country and in terms of percentage of geographical area State of Mizoram has 85.41% of forest cover.
The Constitution and major forest laws
By virtue of Article 246 of the Constitution of India, there is a division of power between the union and the state on the basis of subject matter and the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 has transferred forests under the Concurrent List. When the framers of the Constitution made the 42nd Amendment, the Amendment also gave rise to two very important provisions firstly Article 48A which were the directive principles of state policy to protect the environment and safeguard the forest and the other is to add a fundamental duty of every citizen in the form of Article 51Ak(g), which is also talking in context of protection of environment and safety of forests and wildlife.
Even though the subject of forest falls within a concurrent list the state has a limited control over forest. As per Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act the state is required to get prior permission of the centre in respect of de reservation of forest or forest use for non-forest purposes, life tea plantation, spices and so on. The state cannot grant lease to a private person, organisation not controlled or owned by the government. Section 3A is a penalty provision for the purpose of contravention of Section 2. The punishment in case of contravention is simple imprisonment which may extend to fifteen days. However, an amendment was made to this Act in 1992 which allowed forest use for non-forest purposes like mining, setting up of power plants, drilling and so on. These activities can cause adverse effects on forests which thereby can degrade the environment. However to conduct such activities the prior consent of the centre is required.
National Forest Policy, 1988 is yet another effort of the government to ensure ecological balance. all life forms are sustained. The policy is aimed towards restoration of disturbed forest, conservation of natural heritage, increased forest cover and to promote afforestation. The policy not only favours production of forests but also efficient utilization of forest resources. The policy strives towards maintaining one third of the total land of the country as forest cover and in hilly areas two third to be kept as forest area so as to avoid soil erosion, landslide, land degradation and so on.
Indian Forest Act 1927: the Act classifies the forest into three categories namely reserved forests, protected forests and Village Forests. Chapter II of the act deals with reserved forest where the act grants permission to the state to constitute any wasteland or forest land which the government holds into reserve forest (Section 3). The Act has also in the form of Section 26 listed what acts are prohibited in reserved forest which includes setting fire, trespassing, cutting timber, breaking land for cultivation, mining, hunting, shooting, contravention of Elephants Preservation Act, 1879, etc. shall be punishable with six months imprisonment and fine along with the sum of damage caused. Chapter III deals with village forests wherein a village community may be assigned rights of government or over any land which was constituted as a reserved forest or cancel such assignment. The state can make rules of management of such forest and the laws that apply to reserved forest will also be applied to village forest. Chapter IV deals with protected forest where any waste land or forest land owned by the government but does not fall under the category of reserved forest is called protected forest. The state exercises the power to reserve trees and make rules for forest protocol. Any person who acts in contravention of provisions of Section 30 shall be punished with imprisonment of six months or fine which may extend to five hundred rupees or both. Provisions have also been made with respect to imposing duty on timber and other forest produce and the government can also collect the drift and stranded timber. This includes timber that has not been registered. Although, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 was a good step towards efficient land use, the intentions of the government do not reflect the concern of forest loss, it reflects more about the economic aspect of forest? The policy has focused more on use of the natural resources forest provides which mainly includes wood. So, the protection of forest does not appear as the paramount consideration of the government. The obvious outcome of this policy was collecting revenue from people involved in forest use.
Forest Restoration Models
It is very clear industrial development is necessary for socio-economic but if such growth is achieved by hazard and recklessness resulting in loss of life and creation of ecological imbalance, there may ultimately be no real economic growth and prosperity. Therefore the need is to strike the right balance which can be brought through sustainable management.
- When we talk about restoration we mainly focus on how to bring back the natural process of how the forest cycle works. We have to look into how a primary forest evolves, the track of the water and how it reaches the soil and further to the plants. So the first step towards a restoration model can be the diagnosis of the area where we want reforestation to take place and find out why a certain forest has degraded or ceased to exist. The answers may range from a variety of factors that may include infrastructure, mining, forest fires, water scarcity, and overcutting of trees. Also a diagnosis of what kind of trees can survive in a particular area. Once we are aware of the right seed and right approach the forest can be restored and it will be economically also feasible as the expense will be done on the right choice. A large amount is spent and wasted on trees or plants that are not suitable for a particular area, a diagnosis prior to planting will prove economically effective. Also assessment for forest needs to be done that does not fall under the category of reserved, village or protected forests. To increase the forest cover other than the government recorded forests the forests owned by private bodies must also be included in definition of forest as elucidated in Godavarman case. The term forest must include as is defined in a dictionary irrespective of ownership. The government needs to identify places which are forest irrespective of whether they are notified or not.
- A lot of people are dependent on forests for a living. Timber is one of the biggest reasons for cutting down trees. There are certain materials that forest provides which have no substitutes therefore the government has to give clearance for certain forests. For the lost forest the compensation is decided by the ministry of environment and forest. CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) is an initiative wherein activities involve compensating for forest diverted to non-forest uses. The funds received by the state from user agencies can be used for forest conservation and protection. Using this scheme to get funds for restoring forests will make this scheme economically viable for forest restoration. The main task of CAMPA is to work towards regeneration of natural forests. It was formed by the orders of the Supreme Court to evaluate compensatory afforestation activities.
- The Green India Mission launched in the year 2014 also aims towards afforestation activities and restoring diminishing forests. One of the goals of this mission is adoption of improved fuel wood and alternative energy. Now most part of our country is still dependent on wood fire for cooking as in many parts of the country till date the facility of cylinders or gas stoves has not reached. This demands the cutting down of trees. The mission can aim on growing trees like eucalyptus which is one of the economically feasible trees. It can be grown almost anywhere and does not require much water use. The water intake by the tree is 785litres/kg of total biomass which is comparatively very low. What makes it economically viable is the wood availability and is contributing as raw material for pulp, plywood, fuelwood which ensures good returns to the farmers.
- In case of the Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action held that the financial costs of preventing or remedying damage caused by pollution should lie with the undertakings which cause the pollution by adopting the “Polluter Pays Principle”.
The Right to Pollution Free Environment was declared to be a part of Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India in the case of Subhash Kumar vs. State of Bihar and Ors. It must be kept in mind that the permanent assets of mankind are not to be exhausted in one generation. The natural resources should be used with requisite attention and environment must not be affected in any serious way. The need of the hour is the practice of sustainable development. The forest of the country has suffered hugely due to activities which are mainly man-made which involves mining, cutting trees, agricultural purposes, overgrazing and so on. The penalties for contravention of provisions of the Forest Conservation Act need to be made more stringent. Environment-related matters need to be addressed more seriously by the authorities and people. We have to create a balance and harmony between development and the environment to ensure a better future.
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