The Government of India has made public its draft National Forest Policy, to replace the one crafted in 1988. Incorporating consequences of climate change but entirely ignoring one of the three forest related laws, the Forest Rights Act, the policy brings new focus to plantations, growing trees outside forest lands and wood industry.
The policy continues with the national goal of a minimum of one-third of the geographical area under forest or tree cover. But it does away with the goal for hill and mountainous regions to maintain two-thirds of the geographical area under forest cover.
Promising to set up a parallel arrangement to the Forest Rights Act, the policy proposes to launch a new Community Forest Management Mission, bringing government, community and private land under the new proposed management system.
Drafted by the Indian Institute of Forest Management, the research arm of the environment ministry, the policy moots that special communities at the gram sabha (village council) level be created to take over management of forests. The plans prepared by the gram sabhas for their forestlands would also have to be vetted by the forest department based on rules prepared for the same, such as wider management plans the forest department prepares.
The policy released for public comments on June 16 for only 15 days ignores that the Forest Rights Act was promulgated in 2006 to take back control from the forest department of traditional forest lands and give these to tribals and other forest-dwellers. The Act gave communities complete management control over their lands with the forest department’s role substantially diminished.