“Green India Mission is not business as usual. If that is the case, we will be playing with people's sentiments. This is about improving our mental outlook. It is an opportunity to bring about change,” Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, said at the outset of the third national public consultation of the National Mission for a Green India here on Saturday.
“We will not go into how things have been done in the last 50 years. This is going to be different. We seek to bring about a change in the relationship between the people and the forest department. We will ensure transparency and a system of social audits,” he added.
Having come to the city after their visit to Guwahati and Visakhapatnam, the Minister and the members of the core committee interacted with activists and citizens, sharing suggestions and grievances. The national consultations will be held in four more cities: Dehradun, Bhopal, Jaipur and Mysore, after which a final draft of the Mission will be prepared in August. Organisations and individuals from all over Maharashtra participated, suggesting ways to make the Mission a success.
The Mission is a part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), aiming to increase the forest cover in the country by 10 million hectares by 2020 and enhance eco-system services in a holistic manner.
BMS Rathore, a core group member, laid down the means by which the Environment Ministry sought to achieve the mission: strengthening local community institutions and the capacity of the forest department, improving investment climate for planting and forest conservation and monitoring at outcome levels. A number of propositions were presented to the Minister through the day. Citizens brought up the questions of livelihood security, proper use of funds and the issue of de-greening vs. greening. Vishwambhar Choudhari, of Oasis Environmental Foundation, which is a part of the National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM), said that although the Mission was concentrating on ‘greening' the country, it should not be forgotten that ‘de-greening' through afforestation is also resulting in a loss of forest cover. “Taking the example of Lavasa City that has cut hundreds of trees and not got any clearance from the Environment Ministry, we should look into such matters before planting more trees,” he added.
Replying to that, Mr. Ramesh said, “We all know how and why Lavasa happened. If there are any mistakes made by the Central government I will rectify them.”
Ecologist Madhav Gadgil suggested that a ‘Community Forest Reserve' should be created and people's participation should be encouraged. Furthermore, from the two lakh villages with forest cover, two crore hectares of land could be used for the Mission. Economist Anita Beninger said that the Mission should aim at integrating the Ministry of Urban Development in the plan. She also suggested the development of local carbon markets that could trade among themselves.
Environmental activist Ashish Kothari stressed that ‘Gram sabhas' should be the deciding authority on the land. “Urban greening and preservation of wetlands is very important. Apart from that, agro forestry should not be carried out on food lands,” he added. On the question of funds, he said that “mechanisms that will make sure that the money is spent where it should be spent and by whom it should be spent” should be put in place
Sampat Kale, a faculty member at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), said the mangroves in Maharashtra should be taken care of, as they were being endangered by the Special Economic Zones (SEZs). . Experts and activists took up the cause of the grasslands. Only if they are restored, the Great Indian Bustard can have its habitat back, they said.
Shriram Gamarkar, member of the organisation, Vanrai, said the power of the youth should be used to the fullest.
Responding to queries, Mr. Ramesh said that in three years, three to four forestry satellites would be launched, and this would help monitoring the programmes on a day-to-day basis.
On the land to be forested, citizens said if the Mission were to be advertised as a ‘people's programme,' it should deal with the ownership issue with sensitivity.