THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The State Forest Department has opposed certain clauses in the Draft National Forest Policy 2018 but is resoundingly silent on certain fundamental omissions, and a radical insertion, in the draft. The draft policy has nothing to prevent diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes and has no mention of forest rights. And it has introduced the concept of economic valuation of forests. The State’s official response to the Centre is silent on all these three aspects that will have a bearing on how forests will be conserved in future.
“It was the Supreme Court (in the 1995 Godavarman Thirumulpadu Case) that introduced the afforestation clause that said that for every cent of forest land diverted for non-forestry purposes compensatory afforestation has to be carried out in an equal extent of land,” said lawyer and environmental activist Harish Vasudevan said. “The draft policy has simply ignored this concept that had governed forest conservation since 1995,” he added.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan of Thanal said that the clear thrust given in the 1988 policy (which is now sought to be revised by the NDA Government) to prevent diversion of forest lands for non-forest purposes was missing in the draft policy of 2018. “The 1988 policy speaks of the most careful examination by specialists before diversion, and wanted the social and environment costs to be weighed,” he added. According to an analysis by the Delhi-based environment group, Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the NDA government has, on an average, diverted 122 sq km of forests for development projects every year between 2014 and 2017.
This is equivalent to forest land the size of 63 football grounds being cleared every day for three years. Mr Vasudevan said that Draft had not retained the spirit of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which had attempted to right historical wrongs and restore forest lands to its original owners. Even the 1988 policy speaks about “Tribal People and Forests” and acknowledges their symbiotic relationship. “It is a matter of concern that the Draft policy speaks about roping in private parties for forest management as opposed to the participatory management that involved tribals and forest dwellers,” Mr Sridhar said.
The State's silence is ironical because the rights of tribals over forest land was one of the major recommendations that came up at CPM's International Congress on Kerala Studies held in 2015, just before the LDF came to power. What Mr Vasudevan finds most absurd is the ‘economic valuation of forests’ mooted in the Draft Policy. “Forests should be valued for their ecological importance and not for the financial gains that can be extracted from them,” Mr Vasudevan said. “Mangroves and grasslands are as crucial wildlife habitats as a conventional forest. Wagamon hills might not have a single tree but two rivers originate from there,” he said.