Roy Mathew

Discussions to finalise policy to be held on Friday

Draft policy silent on status of cardamom hills

Ground rules specified for renewal of leases

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The draft forest policy will come up for the last round of discussion with experts and nature lovers on August 24 before finalisation and approval by the Cabinet.

While the draft has been improved upon with inputs from scientists and others, several critical areas remain to be fully addressed by the policy.

One of the welcome additions is the policy statement that planting of new seedlings would be undertaken in lieu of trees cut for developmental purposes such as the widening of roads.

Species rotation

Species rotation will be tried while replanting plantations. Planting of fruit trees in public spaces will be emphasised and greening of cities will be institutionalised.

However, there is no assurance that the social forestry wing of the Forest Department will refrain from planting reserve forest areas.

There is also no policy prescription to check corruption.

The policy is almost silent on crucial issues such as the status of cardamom lands. It is also not clear how far the Government will tolerate the breach of lease agreements. However, ground rules have been specified for renewal of leases.

The policy does not elaborate on the strategy for fire control and issues such as the desirability of controlled burns and fire lines.

Though this is an area where the unemployed youth, especially tribals, could be gainfully employed, the policy says nothing about use of manpower for fire control.

Labour policy

However, a separate labour policy is promised besides a professional code of ethics for the Department. There are no plans for restructuring of the top-heavy Department, which the previous Government had failed to do.

Issues such as rationalisation of protected areas, status of buffer zones and delays in issuing final notification of sanctuaries are not addressed.

New sanctuaries

However, there is promise to form new sanctuaries. A protocol will be drawn up to take care of wild animals straying into populated areas and their rehabilitation. Environmental audit will be conducted in all forest zones.

There is assurance in the policy that ecotourism, which has been doing damage to the forests, will be encouraged only subject to the carrying capacity of the locations.

However, the policy says nothing about how the carrying capacity was going to be assessed. Though there is a new proposal to collect fee from those who exploit the ecosystem, it is not clear how it is going to be assessed and collected.

There is scope for the Department itself to increase its revenues from tourism zones under its control considering the rates prevalent for other tourist services.

The policy talks about encouraging cottage industries using bamboo and reeds and catering to the demand for raw materials.

However, considering the depletion of the resources, encouragement of cottage industries and new uses would not be advisable, though livelihoods need to be protected.

The plan for increasing production of bamboo and reeds is likely to lead to planting operations inside forests.

The policy as it applies to the tribals has been delineated. Forest dwelling tribals will be treated as part of the ecosystem.

They will be granted the right to use forests without any right to transfer properties. They will have opportunities for protecting their tradition and culture. At the same time, they would be free to enter the mainstream.