Growing forests: on expanding good green cover

The disclosure in Parliament that the Centre is not ready with the rules to implement the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 demonstrates that the government’s resolve to meet a variety of environmental objectives, including major commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, remains woefully weak. It is, of course, debatable whether the Act, with the disbursal mechanism through national and State funds that it mandates, is a sound remedy for loss of rich forests that continues to occur because of developmental and biotic pressures. The evidence on compensatory afforestation in a big project such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam, for instance, is not encouraging. About 13,000 hectares were compensated there, but only with patchy outcomes: healthy monoculture plantations having low biodiversity value came up in some places, while others resulted in unhealthy plantations with few trees. Be that as it may, diversion of forests for non-forest use seems inevitable to some degree, and the accumulation of about ₹40,000 crore in compensatory funds clearly points to significant annexation of important habitats. The task is to make an assessment of suitable lands, preferably contiguous with protected areas that can be turned over for management to a joint apparatus consisting of forest department staff and scientific experts.


Putting in place a scientific national plan to expand good green cover is essential, since the sequestration of carbon through sustainably managed forests is a key component of the commitment made under the Paris Agreement. There is already a Green India Mission, which is distinct from the framework envisaged for compensatory afforestation. What the Centre needs to do is to enable independent audit of all connected programmes, in order to sensibly deploy the financial resources now available. It must be emphasised, however, that replacing a natural forest with a plantation does not really serve the cause of nature, wildlife, or the forest-dwelling communities who depend on it, because of the sheer loss of biodiversity. Yet, there is immense potential to augment the services of forests through a careful choice of plants and trees under the afforestation programme. All this can make a beginning only with the actualisation of the law passed in 2016. It is worth pointing out that the method used to calculate the net present value of forests, taking into account all ecosystem services they provide, is far from perfect, as many scientists point out. Some of the momentum for compensatory afforestation has come from judicial directives, but now that there is a new law in place, it should be given a foundation of rules that rest on scientific credibility.

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 9:28:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/growing-forests/article22320377.ece

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