Daily Current Affairs – 25th August, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Forest Land Diversion in India
World Bank: India has managed to increase its forest area by 2.27% in the last 25 years. This has put India ahead of the global average in afforestation efforts.
However, when the forests in India are looked in detail, the picture is not so encouraging.
Forest Survey of India, 2015
- Total forest area in India: 7,01,673 sq. km
- Increase in total forest area by 3,775 sq. km since 2013
- But, in same period, 2,511 sq. km of very dense and mid-dense forests were completely wiped out.
- Cutting down natural forests and replacing them with planted trees in wastelands or non-forest areas is not the same thing.
- Natural forests have complex system of flora and fauna which cannot be absolutely restored by planned forestation.
What is responsible for the destruction of India’s natural forests?
- According to government, encroachment is the biggest reason for forest land diversion in India.
- Between October 1980 and July 2016, India has diverted almost 9,00,000 hectares of forest land for non-forest purposes.
- This is 2% of India’s total forest area as of 2015.
- However, activists working on ground have questioned the encroachment numbers.
- They have cautioned not to take end-use classification of diverted forest land at face value.
- Reason: Many a time, the government might first declare land under cultivation and habitation as forest land and then try to evict the people living there.
- For instance: in states like Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the forest department has been carrying out the policy of ‘aggressively afforesting’ forest land. Here, the government takes away lands under shifting cultivation from Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups and carries out plantations without the consent of these communities.
*Others category includes miscellaneous projects not included in the above indicated major categories such as petrol pump, relocation of villages, disputed settlement claims, stone/sand quarrying, construction of residential complex, pipe lines, borehole prospecting etc.
Forest Land Diversion in India
- There is 897,698.4 hectares of forest land diverted all over India
- Madhya Pradesh- 27%
- Chhattisgarh- 9.4%
- Gujarat- 7.1%
- Punjab- 7.1%
- Maharashtra- 6.7%
- Odisha- 5.4%
- Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh: huge areas of land have been used up for coal and iron ore mining.
- Arunachal Pradesh (3.6% of forest land diverted): Land is used for hydel power generation.
The case of Punjab
- States with higher proportion of forest land diversion were Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
- Punjab is the worst case of land diversion
- 20% of Punjab’s total forest area has been diverted between 1980-2016
- To put in perspective: Haryana is ranked second to Punjab. It has diverted 3.8% of its forest land in same period
- Rapid urbanization, building of roads, bridges, defence installations, etc. are responsible for this drastic erosion
- The government itself uses lot of forest land for building educational institutes, etc. as it is difficult to acquire land, given the complexities of land acquisition
- Also, as Punjab has less forest area vis-à-vis other states in the country, its diversion of forest area also appears high.
- It is a product of colonial rule which has seen forests as state property.
- This has often brought conflict between local population residing in forests and bureaucracy. Such conflicts have been going on through generations
- Thus, encroachment accounting for the highest loss in forest area points to an old fight between the forest bureaucracy and forest population of India.
- International experience shows that local population display greater efficiency and stakes in forest conservation as well as afforestation than the efforts given by forest bureaucracy.
- This debate has become relevant with Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill undertaken by Parliament.
- According to environment experts, this bill seeks to reverse the gains which the Forest Right Act, 2006 conferred on communities living in forests, majority of which as Scheduled Tribes.