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World Environment Day 2011: Forest Issues and Challenges in India

India: Forests and Economy

A growing population, rising disposable income levels and the availability of a wide range of products and services – are all precursors to a society ready to enter into a ‘consumption mania’.It would not be completely wrong to say that India is currently going through the very same transition witnessed by developed countries in the past. The liberalization of Indian economy which began in 1992 had fueled growth in all major sectors and India emerged as a hot-spot destination for foreign investment. A strong economy backed by a growth rate of over 8% has attracted Multi-National Corporations from US, UK, China, Japan and many leading economies.The focus on economic growth has been very strong but the moot question is – Will this economic growth come at the cost of environment? How much would the government and its mechanisms ensure sustainable development?

The economic growth paradigm has grossly undermined the real value of natural resources and this has put severe pressure on forests that harbor a vast majority of natural resources, mainly – minerals, coal and timber. India has a forest cover of 67.83 million hectares which comprises 20.64% of the country’s geographical area. However, rapid industrialization coupled with weak enforcement of forest and environment legislations has had a devastating effect on forest cover and the ecosystems supported by them. There are well-laid down environmental policies for forest management but there is a definitive lack of clarity when it comes to implementation. Most often the legislations are seen as a bottle-neck for economic development that act antithetical to the Indian governments’ efforts to woo foreign investors to set up business. The impact is manifold – a betrayed local community, a snubbed business entity and an irreversible environmental damage when projects flout environmental norms or are abandoned in mid course.

Interview – Jairam Ramesh, Environment Minister, India

What puts the government in the dock?

There have been instances where Projects managed by MNCs have been put on hold by the government or been forced to change course as they violated environmental norms. Quite many industrial projects were approved in recent past. While most of these projects were given land occupied by local tribal communities on a fast track basis – a process overseen by high-level ministries and government bodies, little has been done to improve the process of resettlement and rehabilitation of project affected people. Issues have been raised at all levels – from acquiring Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), participation of locals through compensation. What is important to address here is how much is the government concerned about the environmental norms vis-a-vis economic prosperity. There is ambiguity in the allocation of responsibilities between the State and the Centre that has led to approval of projects that were later reversed by the Centre. A lot of ground still needs to be covered as far as according conditional approvals to corporate are concerned. The monitoring mechanisms need to be more technologically sound and the legal implications made more clear and transparent.

The Forests Rights Act (2006) purports to safeguard the rights of forest dwelling communities. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) by its recent conditional approval to POSCO has violated its own July 30, 2009 order, by which MoEF had directed all state governments that no permission for forest diversion would be granted unless the state government submitted evidence that the process of recognition of rights in the concerned forest area had been completed under the FRA, and that particular evidence of the recognition of primitive tribal groups (PTG) and community forest resource rights and Gram Sabha resolutions giving informed community consent must be attached. Though this is a case of MoEF overstepping its jurisdiction, as any order regarding FRA should have come from MOTA, nonetheless this order had enabled communities to prevent diversion of forest land for a large investment project in Orissa for mining bauxite in Niyamgiri Hills by Vedanta Alumina Ltd. (Source: “What plaques the implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006?”)

The government has to come clean on these issues as this sends a strong signal to the international community on how ‘sustainably’ future business would be done in India.

  • deepak kumar

    It is very good but it is very short and not covering the total area.

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