Restoring India’s Dwindling Forest Cover
Dwindling forest land is fast becoming a major problem in India as 90 thousand hectares of forest land has been diverted for non-forestry use in the last five years, as per statistics recently shared by the Union Environment Ministry in the Rajya Sabha. Clearly, the situation is alarming, especially at a time when climate change is threatening to make the planet inhabitable. Forests are foot soldiers in our battle against global warming and the goal of sustainable development will never be achieved if forest cover continues to disappear at such a high rate. Quite alarmingly, deforestation is rampant in states like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand, etc. which is causing irreparable damage to the ecology as is evidenced by frequent natural disasters like landslides, flash floods in the region. If such calamities continue without action, sooner than later the fertile Gangetic plain will turn into barren land. The time is ripe to restore India’s forest cover on a war-footing to protect the population from the wrath of nature.
The data presented in the Rajya Sabha shows that India is losing nearly 18 thousand hectares of forest cover per year. Environmentalists have directed blame towards the amendment effected in the original Forest Conservation Act, which they believe have diluted the very essence of law. As per the amendment, it is now permissible to use forest land for non-forestry purposes provided such changes are required for public usage, by afforesting equivalent area of land to compensate the damage caused to the ecosystem. It is alleged that since the amendment came to effect, by pledging to compensate the ecosystem, the number of mining, road, irrigation projects, etc. have increased considerably. There is strong demand from experts that the amendment be repealed. In support of their demand, environmentalists have raised various concerns. It has been found that to adhere to the compensation clause, afforestation is being conducted in barren land where the survival rate of plantation is poor. The low longevity of compensatory forests clearly goes against the idea of preserving and increasing forest cover in the country. Secondly, the damage caused to the ecology by the destruction of forests cannot be compensated overnight as it takes time for forests to develop. Thus, the use of forest land for non-forestry purposes cannot be justified with the so called compensatory measures. Some experts have argued that diversion of forest land should be allowed only after the development of new forests. There is also a humanitarian aspect involved in this issue, a large section of our population is dependent on forests for their livelihood. Thus, when forest land is diverted for other purposes, livelihoods are negatively impacted, without necessary adequate compensation. All these issues should be carefully considered before allowing forest land use for non-forestry purposes lest our forests are irrevocably damaged.