Decimation Of Forest

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 13 May 2018 08:47:28


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The major forest destruction comes from industries, dams, urban expansion and mining exercises. These infrastructure inroads damage large swathes in bulk which is hard to be compensated.

 

When destruction is in one stroke, the forests never recover. This is what we have to check. Development has to go hand in hand with forests, not on a compromise. We cannot afford to lose forests. Development, if not absolutely necessary at a particular place and time, can wait. But to wait for trees to grow and compensate the loss is a foolish proposition


BEFORE his death on May 18 last year, Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave had written in his will, “Do not erect a memorial when I die, but plant a tree if you loved and respected me.” Dave had reasons to be worried. Between 1880 and 2013, India lost about 40 per cent of its forest cover.


Today, 24 per cent of its area is under forests or 7 lakh sq km, according to Government data. “Despite tall claims by various agencies, the forests are still degrading and also depleting due to overexploitation,” a new assessment by the Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehradun has found. After 70 years of Independence, more than two-thirds of villages adjoining forests across the country are still heavily dependent on forests for fodder, firewood and other produce.
Northeast India and Andaman and Nicobar Islands are likely to lose 2,305 sq km of forest cover by 2025, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists have predicted in a recent study. What’s worse, the FRI study shows that 60 per cent of whatever forests we are left with is in poor health with inadequate regeneration status. But the degeneration of forest cover is not to be blamed solely on forest-dependent communities.


Governments have tried over the years to incorporate these communities in forest conservation but with little success. Under environmental crimes, many of those booked under the Forest Rights Act are locals who are penalised for collecting forest produce that they use themselves or sell to sustain themselves. In contrast, illegal logging, timber trade and diversion of forest area for industrial purposes continue unabated. The Forest Act of 1927 is a colonial-era law that penalises locals for using the forest as a resource. Most of India’s forest laws are a complex tangle of rules and regulations, each aimed towards seemingly divergent goals. The newest law — the Forest Rights Act of 2005 — is designed to recognise the rights of traditional communities. A recent order by the National Tiger Conservation Authority threw environmental activists off balance, by saying that communities living in protected habitats critical for tigers would have no forest rights at all. In the absence of an updated forest policy, there is much room for motivated interpretations. India’s last forest policy is also about two decades old and there is no new forest policy in sight. In such a situation the future of forest dwellers and those communities living in the periphery hangs in balance. Those dependent on forests don’t even know what is legal and what comes under illegality. They have been living a way of life for years and the forest is their natural food and livelihood source since they know of no other way. It is a question of their survival. And the interesting thing is since they depend on forests, they don’t generally destroy forests. There might be stray incidents of vested exploitation or inadvertent accidents due to negligence, but in general, it is the forest communities who keep the forests protected.
Many reserved forests have given validation to these communities and roped them in forest conservation activities. They have been found productive and cooperating in Government efforts. Therefore, to blame these people squarely for degradation of forests is based on false premises. The major forest destruction comes from industries, dams, urban expansion and mining exercises. These infrastructure inroads damage large swathes in bulk which is hard to be compensated. A railroad construction or a building of a resort in a forest land are things that decidedly ravage flora and fauna en masse and in quick time. The dependence of a village or two on a forest patch is a different thing. The exploitation is minor and staggered i.e. in small tranches, which gives time to nature to replenish itself.


When destruction is in one stroke, the forests never recover. This is what we have to check. Development has to go hand in hand with forests, not on a compromise. We cannot afford to lose forests. Development, if not absolutely necessary at a particular place and time, can wait. But to wait for trees to grow and compensate the loss is a foolish proposition.
A tree takes decades to grow fully. By that time, the loss to the environment is irrevocable. The main reason for the unstoppable onslaught on forests is lack of planning, vision and the dominant role corruption and highhandedness plays in projects and deals. People with petty provincial interests and short-term gains approve and manage such shows which prove detrimental to nature. Things are often planned in haste and executed shoddily, wherein forests become the easiest and most natural casualty since there is no one to speak for them. Unless the mandarins and executors of schemes are aware, informed and concerned about forests and environment, they would never care for their protection or promotion. If the focus is on swanky buildings and spic and span highways, if the priority is industry and mining, if the target is to build resorts and water parks, sustainable livability has to take a back seat. Today our cities, towns and even villages are unlivable because of lack of green cover and excessive intrusion of concrete in the landscape. There is dust, pollution, heat, filth and dryness largely because of lack of forests.


No urban planning is complete anywhere in the civilized world without ample provisions for green cover. For urban planners in India, greenery is perhaps the last rung in the ladder of development, which can be very happily ignored. Planting a row of saplings along the roadside is an eyewash because such an exercise serves more the purpose of the decoration than any environmental benefit.
It is a very effective PR exercise for certain but not something that can amuse environmentalists. Annual plantation drives are more of rituals than any effectively planned and sustained venture because months after the saplings are planted, most die due to negligence and lack of maintenance and upkeep.


Moreover, it is always certain that trees take decades to grow and they can never make for the loss the cutting of big trees cause. Organised lumbering in protected forest areas by highly linked mafia cartels is still a reality in India.
Thousands of our beautiful hills, lush green valleys and sylvan ecosystems have been denuded by rampant deforestation all through the 70s till the 90s. We woke up late and took up some efforts here and there to control such excessive exploit but by that time, we were late and the road ahead was tough.
The environment had already gone for a toss by then. To add to the disaster is our fad for ruthless infrastructure and urban expansion at all costs, even illegally, without sparing a thought for the implications such mad rush could have on future society.