Sunday, May 14, 2017

Commercial Forestry & Research in India

In need of environmental protection, protecting niche habitats for other forms of life, it becomes imperative to keep an eye on commercial exploitation of our forests. During the British Raj German born Dietrich Branids was appointed as first Inspector of Forests.    

He later on, in the year 1864 went on to establish the Indian Forest Service, and subsequently the Indian Forest Act in 1865. Water protection and wildlife also came under the purview of this act. The Indian forests were then classified as  Protected, Reserved and Village Forests. The amendment Act 1927 adds another category to the listings namely the Private Forest.    

Under the Act unauthorized quarrying, poaching and illegal tree felling was punishable by fine or imprisonment. 

The Forest Research Institute at Dehradun in Uttarakhand was set up in 1906 as Imperial Forest Research Institute by the masters. This Institute has been at the forefront of scientific study and development of forestry in India.  Through the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy training is provided by it to forests officers.  

In 1988 Indian Council of Forest Research under MOEF was established. This is an umbrella organization for various training institutes and research centers in India.  In 1991 FRI was accorded the status of deemed university. 

The Indian Forestry Act was the beginning of organized exploitation of timber in India during the Raj. There was an urgent need of Sal and Teak woods for various commercial purpose hence tree felling by villagers was prohibited in the reserved forests. This era also witnessed mushrooming of tea and coffee plantations at the cost of precious ecosystems.     

In spite of formation of organized structures and scientific research exploitation of forest wealth (read timber) has continued unabated and could be termed as reprehensible. The single species plantation and clear felling points out to severe lack of  understanding of ecosystems and the fragile web of life. Over powered by greed, the plunder of our forest wealth continues till this day. Commercial felling constitutes one of major environmental disasters that the country is facing. 

Albeit recent reports in India point out to marginal growth of area under forest cover the effect is nowhere visible. FAO estimates a forest cover of twenty two percent in India, but do the surveys point out to the status of the forest cover?

In order to classify as healthy ecosystems, the forest crown cover should be robust. Some of the tiger reserves and protected areas in the country stand out as fine examples.      

In 1953 the government nationalised forests and minor forest produce bringing in complete control over what is termed as a National resource. It was during this period that large scale clear felling and takeover of forest and niche habitats like grasslands for agriculture and settlements for fast growing populations took place.  

As the disastrous impact of denudation dawned upon, greater impetus was placed on afforestation. Eventually social or community based forestry was introduced in India.  This was not only to prevent deluge and soil erosion, it was aimed at fulfilling huge demand for wood and wood based products in India. 

Although there was significant success of community based forestry in some states these were purely of commercial interest and had no impact on improvement of the environment, and could not sustain wildlife altogether. This merely resulted in industrialization of forest produce as a result of mass scale production - this certainly is not ecocoservation by all means.    

Thankfully clear feeling has been halted in the country and is replaced by felling selected one's which are classified as old or degenerate. These is under the purview of local state governments. 

Nevertheless the country strives for increasing the forest cover and an amount tantamount to staggering 6 billions dollars plus has been assigned for this purpose in the year 2015. The bill has been tabled as Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill.    

The approach may sound sincere, but there are many hurdles that afforestation faces. There is a lack of comprehensive mechanism for implementation and supervision of the whole exercise. This is further aggravated by misutilization of funds, corrupt practices, efficient methodology, prevalent lethargy and lack of sincerity.  

The exercise could be meaningful if the forest lands affected in the past, and those diversified for alternate commercial interest are brought under the purview. The country has faced abject failure as far as compensatory afforestation is concerned.   Read CAG Report. 
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