India is one of the mega diversity countries in the world with different types of forests. Officially 20 per cent of geographical area in the country is under forest cover. The National Forest Policy (1988) aims to increase the forest cover to one third.
According to India State Forest Report released in 2015, the forest cover has increased by 5081 square kilometres between 2013 – 2015, increasing the carbon sinks by 103 million tonnes.
Though Mizoram has the highest 93 per cent forest cover, many north eastern states have experienced decline in green cover. The country faces numerous challenges in implementing its policies to protect and grow forests.
Protection of forests is done through implementation of Forest Conservation Act (1980) and through establishment of protected areas. The Government of India has established 597 Protected Areas of which 95 are National Parks and 500 Wild Life Sanctuaries. These comprise about 5 per cent of the geographical areas of the country. Different type of forests and scrub jungles are host to the diverse wild life including the tigers, elephants and lions.
Due to the rising population there is enormous pressure on forest land for extraction of forest based industries and encroachment for extension of agriculture. The rising conflicts between conserving forests for generating ecosystem services and diversion for developmental project poses one of the biggest challenges in managing the forest resources.
It is estimated that the demand for timber is growing at a faster speed from 58 million cubic meters in 2005 to 153 million cubic meters in 2020. The annual growth of the forest stock can only supply 70 million cubic meters of timber, forcing us to import hard wood timber from other countries.
In India 67 per cent of the rural household depend on firewood for cooking. About one million deaths are reported annually caused by the fumes of firewood for cooking. In order to address this problem, Pradhan Mantri LPG Scheme ‘Ujjwala Yojana’ is implemented by Ministry of Petrolium and Gas that provides free LPG connections to BPL families in remote rural areas. This has provided access to clean and efficient energy to a large number of families in the countryside.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has given the call to celebrate world forestry day for 2017 with the theme of ‘forests and energy’. The emphasis is to develop wood as a major source of renewable energy, to mitigate climate change and fostering sustainable development. By developing community wood lots and delivering clean and energy efficient wood stoves, millions of people in developing economies will have access to cheap and reliable supply of renewable energy.
Green India Mission
The Climate Change Action Plan and the Green India mission attempts to address the issue of development of wood energy by establishing large scale tree plantations with the help of community participation.
According to Shri Anil Madhav Dave, MOS (I/C), M/o Environment, Forest and Climate Change “there are two major afforestation schemes, National Afforestation Programme (NAP) and National Mission for Green India (GIM). Both these schemes are implemented in participatory mode under joint forest management programme”. NAP aims at eco regeneration of degraded forests and GIM aims at increasing the forest cover along with improving the quality of the forests, including the farm and agro forestry.
Under GIM, six million hectares of plantations will be established every year on degraded forest land.
One of the main pillars of afforestation is to regrow the forests in lieu of diversion of the forest land for developmental purposes. Both the houses of Parliament passed the Compensatory Afforesttion Bill in 2016. With a provision of Rs 42000 crores, and annual outlay of Rs 6000 crores will be made available to states to facilitate conservation, improvement and expansion of forest resources in the country. This Act provides institutional framework at both central and state levels to implement the compensatory afforestation programme.
Additionally this will generate 15 crore man days of direct employment in the remote forest areas of the country helping tribal population.
While implementing these green schemes, India faces enormous challenges. The climate change directly impacts the survival of planted saplings. The extension of dry areas and desertification is another big challenge that needs to be tackled with proper interventions. There is need for participatory models of afforestation in which the local knowledge helps to regenerate and manage the forest resources.
Realising the strength of the tribal knowledge systems, the Prime Minister said” if there is someone who saved the forests, it is our tribal communities, and for them saving forests is part of the tribal culture”. He called upon the people to take the pledge to collectively work to conserve forests and increase the tree cover. More forests mean more water that benefits farmers and future generations.
In ancient Indian tradition the Rishis, or those who are the learned and sages get energy form the forests. According to Rabindranath Tagore, life in forest is the highest form of cultural evolution. The sages derived intellectual and spiritual energy from the forests, living near trees and water streams.
Though the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation has laid out ‘wood energy form the forests’ as the main theme of International Forest Day, Indian tradition assigns much higher status and value to the living energy of the forests to attain spiritual and cultural regeneration of life. This seems to be more holistic in understanding the links between forests and energy.
*Author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Karnataka. Views expressed in the article are personal.