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Environmental Injustice Invisible 72

Environmental Injustice Invisible 72

The picture above shows Dr K M Munshi, inaugurating Van Mahotsava at Rajghat, Delhi on August 21, 1950, when he planted the first of 108 saplings donated by the Delhi Gujarati Samaj. Dr Munshi was convinced of the importance of forests in India’s SOIL and WATER CONSERVATION for the domestic, agriculture and industrial water supply and he launched the Van Mahotsav in 1950 and constituted Indian Forest Service (IFoS) along with Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) under the All India Services Act, 1951 by the Government of India. IFoS is at par with IAS and IPS in selection, training, appointments and remuneration. IFoS is primarily responsible for India’s forest development and conservation at the optimum level. Even the yearly Van Mahotsav comes under the purview of IFoS as the prime responsibility of supplying the planting materials for the Van Mahotsav rests on it. For the last 67 years the total forest in India remains the same: around 18-20 percent in spite of the claims of planting thousands of hectares with saplings by the forest departments, NGOs and public. What is the Indian the trick? I shall try to explore it in the write up.

According to Planning Commission of First Five year Plan (1950-55) no accurate data was available on forests. However "Indian Forest Statistics" puts the area under forests in 1949-50 at about 18 per cent of the total land area. However taking into consideration certain draw backs in the method of estimate it was felt reasonable to assume that the area under forests at that time constituted about 20 per cent of the total land area. Even after 67 years the data on the same oscillates around 20 per cent (18 to 22 per cent). India though equipped with high caliber remote sensing capability still cannot provide accurate data on forest cover is a sure sign that something is happening behind the scene. The first trick is never to have accurate data or even if you have, don’t give it to the public: Invisible Injustice.

Forest Survey of India (FSI 2008) defines ‘forest’ as ‘all lands, more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10 per cent’ forest cover. Using these criteria the forest cover of the country is 67.71 million ha or 20.60% of India’s total geographical area. The forests are categorized under very dense (above 70% tree cover), moderately dense (40-70 % tree cover) and open forest (10 to 40% tree cover). Accordingly we have only 1.66% of the area under dense forest, moderately dense forests cover almost half (10.12%) of the total forests and open forests slightly less at 8.82% of the total land area. The second among Indian tricks is to have a sub-standard classification of the forest and dabble with it: Invisible Injustice.

As already mentioned our categorization of forest is far below a proper standard. IFoS should be ashamed of calling a land with a mere 10-40% tree-cover as a forest. To name any area as forest at least 75% of the area should be under tree cover and in the CATCHMENT area the trees and other vegetative cover should be 100% except on pure rocks. In India nearly half of the designated forest area (8.82/20.6) is open forest having tree cover ranging between 10-40 per cent and mostly with 10-20% tree cover. Just because the ownership of the land is with the forest department it cannot be called a forest. It is only a waste land owned by forest department. The complete rocky areas with no patches of any soil cannot be forested and need not be part of the forest cover estimation. But rocky areas with intermittent stony soil patches can be forested and should be forested. Trees belonging to Ficus family (F. Aurea, F. Benghalensis, F. C itrifolia , F. E lastic, F. M acrophylla , F. M icrocarpa, F. P ertusa, F. R ubiginosa , F. Tinctoria ,) can grow on rocks, walls of the building, concrete roofs etc.

A forest land without massive rocky areas should have perennial tree cover of full 100 per cent and have a minimum area of one hectare or 2.5 acres; only then it can perform the functions of a forest land; one hectare of forest land can function as a very good protective cover for the spots from where springs originate from the numerous depressed areas in the mountainous regions. Even if there are some gaps in a designated forest land they can be filled up with trees in few years time. There is no excuse to leave forest land without rocks vacant. The third Indian trick is to play with categories or classification of forest cover and create an illusion good forest management in the mind of the people: Invisible Injustice.

Perennial trees with dense under growth of the bushes and creepers throughout the catchment areas is an essential vegetative environmental factor for maximizing percolation of rainwater into the soil so that the streams and rivers originating from that catchment area will have water supply throughout the year. Forest land with less than 75% of the area under tree cover cannot be considered forest at all. Efforts should be made to maintain 100% tree or vegetative cover in the demarcated forest area. In that respect we have not even one per cent of the forest area is under 100% tree cover. Declaring areas as forest in our country is similar to naming cowdung and human faeces littered country as ‘Swatchh Bharat’. The fourth Indian trick is just to name it what you want or wish (like the golden mountain which never exists) and then forget about its reality: Invisible Injustice.

The first forest policy in India was in 1894 made by the British for their advantage. The second Forest Policy was in 1952 which suggested that "India as a whole should aim at maintaining one-third (33.3%) of its total land area under forests. As an insurance against denudation a much larger percentage of the land, about 60 per cent, should be kept under forests for their protective functions in the Himalayas, the Deccan and other mountainous tracts liable to erosion. In the Plains, where the ground is flat and erosion is normally not a serious factor, the percentage of forest should be at least 20 per cent.” Our standard is abysmally low. Countries like Japan, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Sweden, Finland, Suriname, North and South Koreas, Guyana, Seychelles, Tasmania etc. have around 70% of the area under forestry. Of course most of the countries in the world have forest area less than 60 per cent. The fifth Indian trick is to maintain the lowest world averages in everything and in the case of forestry too: Invisible injustice.

Foremost among the importance of forest system is to maintain the water cycle and soil conservation. For the maintenance of water cycle all the catchment areas of all streams and rivers above 20% (1:5 =vertical/horizontal) slope should be completely and perennially forested and no human or animal disturbance should be allowed in those areas. For soil and water conservation slope is as important as the percentage of forest cover in a country. That means 100% of the catchment area should be under 100% forest cover. The implementation of the Forest Policy is always under the State and is subjected to enormous variations in implementation. The sixth Indian trick is escapism and blaming others: to pass on the responsibility of implementation to State Governments by the Centre: Invisible Injustice.

The forest policy of 1988 besides enunciating aims, objectives and strategies raised the minimum forest cover of India from 20% to 33.3% as a whole in the country and in the mountainous areas 66.6% as minimum forest cover. But the percentage of forest still remained “as it was in the beginning:  around 20 per cent. The seventh trick is to state some policy improvements and leave at that- profess and proclaim but never practice: Invisible Injustice.

Then came the National Forest Policy of 2015 with no measurable o bjectives as follows: 1. Enhancing public awareness on economic, social, ecological and cultural values of forests, 2. Implementing a national level mass afforestation programme to expand and maintain forest coverage to meet international standards, 3. Controlling deforestation through regulating movement of timber and inter-provincial trade of timber, 4. Establishing and managing protected areas and networking through ecological corridors, 5. Reducing carbon footprints of energy and economic sector programmes, 6. Facilitating implementation of international conventions and agreements related to forestry, biodiversity and climate change, 7. Promoting standardized and harmonized scientific planning of forests, research and education. The EIGHTH Indian trick is to make bombastic National Forest Policies statements with no measurable objectives: Invisible Injustice.

From the time of first Five year Plan (1950-55) India was averse to privatization; but from the beginning, forestry products were under private sector. About 73 per cent of the total timber is thus utilized in the private sector and the off-take by the Government is about 27 per cent. India's forest industry basically can be divided into two major areas: the paper and pulp industry and the wood industry. The government is set to throw open the management of up to 40% of Indian forests to the private sector to revive degraded forests but experts warned, it may destroy complex ecosystems and deprive local communities of a livelihood. The country has around 69 million hectares forest area, out of which about 40% is categorized as open forests or scrubs -- together called “degraded forests” – which have less than 40% canopy cover. The NINTH Indian trick is to hand over failing public projects to private sector: Invisible Injustice.

The TENTH trick is to emasculate the Ministry of Forest by merging it with the Environment and Climate. At present the newly formed Ministry is headed by a Gau Bhakta and hence his main focus is protection of cows not trees and forests.  All the IFoS officers have to become Gau bhaktas instead of tree bhaktas. Remember IFoS is at par with IAS and IPS in selection, training, appointments and remuneration. But in service they are to do chamchagiri (being servile) to politicians. Highly capable and competent IFoS officers are made impotent in their noble profession: Invisible Injustice.

The last and ELEVENTH trick is frequent shift of emphasis in the National Forest Policy. After the 2015 National Forest Policy the present central government is mooting another National Forest Policy of 2016 giving importance to solid and liquid waste management because of the possibilities of getting huge International Loans, of which a huge chunk will be deposited in Kurta pockets of the venerable politicians of our country. The vision statement of 2016 National Environment, Forest and Climate Policy is in mesmerizing words. In the macabre nature of the frequent Indian Forest Policy change mixed up with environment and climate perspectives for pecuniary benefits, the area of forests in India remains at “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be”- more and more people are and will be dying of thirst than disease and disaster. Already states are and countries are fighting for river water. Future world wars may be for the water as many have predicted. Indian Ministry of Environment and Forest is more paradoxical than environmental or forest friendly: Injustices Invisible.

(The writer is Soil & Water Conservation Specialist and Retired Professor at XIM, Bhubaneswar.   Email:

(Published on 06th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 45)