By – Kalpana Palkhiwala : With the new frontiers of knowledge and science unfolding everyday, forestry sector recognizes its increasing role in the economic, social, political, cultural and environmental well-being of the country.
India is dominant in land use. It occupies more than one fifth of countries geographical area, the forests needs to play a major active and positive role in addressing livelihood concerns of the forests dependent people, in the national priority of alleviation of mass poverty, with copiously overlaps the forest area in rural India, and in contributing to conservation of global environment. This makes it imperative for the sector to review its priorities and strategies in line with the monitor able targets of the Plans and the Development Goals all the actions planned by the forestry sectors need to conform to the overarching objectives of sustainable forest management. Today the forestry sector must focus on enhancing the quantum of environmental goods and services. Efforts are been made to take forestry from the confines of traditional forest areas to none forestlands comprising farm and community land and other lands suitable for tree planting. Breaking new frontiers of planning, management, research, capacity building to continue to provide sustained benefits to people are the call of forestry sector for the country.
The National Forest Policy 1988 provides for achieving one-third of the total land area of the country under Forest or Tree Cover (FTC) and also envisages maintaining two-third of the area under forest and tree cover in the hills and the mountainous regions. The National Environmental Policy 2006 has also reiterated these goals.
The FTC, as has been given in the State of Forest Report 2005 prepared by Forest Survey of India, is only 23.39% comprising of 20.60 percent forest cover and 2.79% of Tree Cover. It means that an additional 31.52 millions hectare FTC is required to achieve the 33% target, which is a Herculean Task. The task is further challenged by the fact that the country’s forests and tree resources are under immense biotic pressure for meeting day-to-day livelihood needs of the local population in terms of fire wood, fodder, small timber, timber, non-timber forest products, etc.
In order to be able to achieve the primary objective, the Ministry of Environment & Forests began dialogue with various stakeholders in the Government and non-Government sector, including the private player for resource mobilization and awareness generation. To set the ball rolling in this direction, an approach paper prepared by the Ministry has been discussed at various levels including the Conference of State Forest Ministers, national-level meeting of the Forest Secretaries and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests on various occasions.
As per the State of Forest Report 2005, the Forest and Tree Cover (FTC) of the country was 23.39% of the geographical area. The assessment by Forest Survey of India does not, at present, take into account the young plantations due to technological and resources limitations. If it is presumed that the young plantations raised up to 2007 would lead to increase in FTC to 25%, the target fixed by planning Commission for the 11th Five Year Plan for increasing the FTC by 5% points, will raise the FTC to 30% by 2012. The target of 5% increase translates into adding FTC over an area of 16.4 million hectare between 2007 and 2012, or 3.28 million hectare per year.
The estimates now require an almost 300% increase in tree planting for the next five years, and radical and series of administrative steps are required to be undertaken to achieve the proposed goal. Also, the Twenty Point Programme was restructured in 2006, and from 2007-08 onwards, afforestation only on public lands (including forest lands), and not tree planting on private lands, is to be monitored by the Government. The target for 2007-08 for afforestation on public land (including forest lands) was fixed as 1.86 million hectare against which the achievement was 1.365 million hectare up to January 2008.
The major constraints were availability of adequate lands for tree planting, mobilization of financial resources, building capacity through research and training and building mass awareness for tree planting. The ministry refined a draft action plan and evolved strategy to increase FTC in the country, which is three fold.
? Existing policies and programmes in the Government which need accelerated implementation by the State Government’s and Union Territories Administration,
? Existing policies and programmes need amendments and
? Formulation of new policies and programmes.
The components of the strategy can be further broadly classified into the following seven generic headings for increase tree planting on both public and private lands:-
? Creating an enabling environment for increase in tree planting through policy changes to secure increased people’s participation, multi stakeholder partnerships and through rationalization of regulations relating to harvest, transport and trade of forest products;
? Taking administrative measures to enlist active participation of all Central and State Government Departments/ Organizations concerned, in particular for identification of available lands;
? Mobilization of financial resources without significant budgetary impacts, including through increased involvement stakeholders outside the forest department;
? Research and Development especially small scale private forestry;
? Building mass awareness in the country involving all Government Organizations (GOs) and Voluntary Organization (VOs); and
? Strengthening of review and monitoring mechanism.
Available of Lands for Tree planting
Even though a rapid assessment confirms availability of the required land for tree plantation, representatives of several NGOs and State Governments have voiced concern that the land may not be physically available as these might already have been encroached and put to other types of use.
The estimates are: (a) Inside Recorded Forests: Keeping in view the difference between Recorded Forest Area (RFA) and actual Forest Cover reported in the State of Forest Report 2005, there might be maximum five million hectare available for afforestation and tree planting inside RFA. Thus, the remaining at least 11.4 million hectare Forest and Tree Cover has to be raised outside the RFA, mostly located in community, revenue and private lands.
(b) Outside Recorded Forests: Several data sources reveal that sizeable underutilized or degraded areas are available. On these lands tree planting could be a major activity. For example:
? As per Wastelands Atlas of India prepared by National Remote Sensing Agency and Ministry of Rural Development in 2005, the surveyed wastelands in the country were 55.27 million hectare, out of which approx. 37 million hectare may be termed as culturable non-forest wastelands.
? As per Desertification Atlas of India prepared by the Space Application Centre in 2007, the areas prone to water erosion is 34 million hectare. Similarly, a 32 million hectare area is under vegetal degradation.
? Agro-forestry could be suitable option for approximately 14 million hectare current fallow and 13 million hectare culturable wastelands as per the Agriculture Census.
Urgent identification and mapping of all types of land available for afforestation and tree planting, and computerized collation of lands records data by the State Governments/Union Territories administration, therefore, becomes, paramount. It is equally important for the State Governments to prepare a sound long term land use. State Forest Policy to provide for afforestation and tree planting on the identified sites outside Recorded Forest Area and maintenance of the existing natural forest cover, and to ensure an effective implementation of the policy.
Mobilization of Financial Resources for Tree Planting
Several schemes also mobilize financial resources for tree planting as a permissible activity. National Afforestation Programme (NAP) Scheme, with its two-tear decentralized setup of Forest Development Agency (FDA) and Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMs) work in this direction. The allocation for the scheme has been raised from Rs. 1176 crores during the Tenth Plan to Rs. 2000 crores during Eleventh Plan. Grants-in-Aid for Greening India (GIA) Scheme is aimed at generating awareness about Quality Planting Material (QPM). It also aims to boost the productivity and income from tree planting. 46 High Tech nurseries were approved during Tenth Plan. Another 21 nurseries have been approved during 2007-08. Four Eco Task Force Battalions are involved in eco-development of difficult sites. Two more battalions have been approved for Assam state.
There are a large number of schemes operated by other Ministries under which tree planting is a permissible activity. Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Department of AYUSH contribute to tree planting. These schemes include National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), Desert Development Programme, Integrated Wasteland Development Programme and Drought Prone Areas Programme of the Ministry of Rural Development. Ministry of Agriculture implements programmes like National Watershed Development Project for Rain-fed Areas (NWDPRA), Watershed development Project for Shifting Cultivation Area (WDPSCA), National Horticulture Mission, and National Bamboo Mission etc. Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also promote plantation of medicinal plants.
To give momentum to the efforts of increase in forest and tree cover various policy measures are under consideration apart from creating or diverting few funds for this activity. Major land-holding departments, e.g. Railways, Defence, Water Resources, High ways and Roads etc. have been suggested to allocate the percentage of their budget for tree planting on the vacant land under their control. The States and Union Territories have been advised to rationalize the rules for falling and transit of trees grown on non-forest private lands. Ministries are also working on a set of complementary policy reforms, like Insurance for tree growers, Certification of forest products, revisiting of tariff structure of import/export of forest products, establishment of markets in forest commodity, fixation of minimum support price for major and minor forest products and establishment of forest database in order to create secure market for better returns to the tree growers.