The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has repudiated a ‘Draft National Forest Policy’ that it uploaded on its website earlier this month calling it an “inadvertent” error.
The ‘Draft National Forest Policy, 2016’, was uploaded on the Ministry’s website on June 16 along with an office memorandum calling for comments. “The Ministry is in the process of revising the present National Forest Policy, 1988. A draft National Forest Policy in this regard has been prepared and enclosed. All stakeholders are requested to send their comments, if any, by email…by June 30, 2016,” said the official memorandum signed by A.K. Mohanty, Deputy Inspector General of Forests.
The Environment Ministry had tasked the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management, an affiliated organisation, with reviewing and revising the existing forest policy. This is the first time that the policy was being re-looked since 1988 as it wanted to update the several changes in forest laws and provide a forward-looking policy that talked about increasing India’s forest cover and tackling the effects of climate change.
However on Saturday, a formal statement from the Ministry and attributed to S.S. Negi, Director-General Forest and Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change read: “As Director-General Forest, I would like to clarify that this document is not the Draft Forest Policy….The Ministry has not issued any draft Notification on National Forest Policy. What has been uploaded on the website was a study done by Indian Institute of Forest Management. Bhopal. The study has not been evaluated by the Ministry. The Ministry has not taken any decision on Draft Forest Policy. The study report prepared by IIFM, Bhopal was inadvertently uploaded as Draft Forest Policy on the website.”
The Hindu couldn’t contact Mr. Negi for his comments. However the opening pages of the policy indicate that IIFM clearly saw itself as working on a “draft policy” and not just a study. “The draft of the National Forest Policy, 2016 has been prepared by the IIFM, Bhopal, based on village-level focus group discussions, regional and national level consultations, inputs from various stakeholders and analysis of primary and secondary datasets carried out during 2015-2016. We are grateful to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India (MoEF&CC) for entrusting this task to IIFM, and acknowledge the financial support received from the UNDP,” says the document.
A top official privy to the drafting process told The Hindu that while the policy was a study that was prepared for the “consideration of the government” it was unusual for the government to so “vehemently” deny that it was a draft.
“This project was funded by the United Nations Development Fund and we were allotted about Rs. 60 lakh by the Ministry for the project that was commissioned as a ‘Review of the National Forest Policy,” the official said.
The draft policy, as The Hindu reported on the June 22, made several suggestions including promoting the commercial use of wood, a greater role for industry in forest management and time-bound reviews of the progress being made in effectively managing forests.
It however didn’t explicitly mention the role of tribals in forest management and the protection accorded by the Forest Rights Act.
As of Saturday evening, the document was still available on the Ministry’s website and open to public comments until June 30. Dr. Negi’s statement noted that a new draft policy would be made available. “…The Ministry has an elaborate procedure for preparing draft policy document, which takes into account multiple inputs from all stakeholders, State governments, think tanks and public consultation. No process has been carried out on the document prepared by IIFM, Bhopal, which is only one of the inputs. A draft Forest Policy will be put in Public Domain once due process is carried out.”