Environment minister Harsh Vardhan. Photo: Mint
Environment minister Harsh Vardhan. Photo: Mint

Environment ministry asks states to prevent illegal felling of trees

The ministry has also asked states to ensure that the process of wood-charcoal making and industries using wood-charcoal do not violate any prescribed environment norms

New Delhi: The union environment ministry has now asked the forest departments of all the states to be more vigilant and enhance forest protection and monitoring systems especially in the areas of charcoal industries to prevent any illegal felling of trees.

A letter was sent by the forest protection division of the union ministry of environment, forests and climate change on 5 February to chief secretaries of governments of all states and union territories in this regard.

“The State Forest Departments are requested to be more vigilant and enhance the forest protection and monitoring system especially in the areas of charcoal industries in an effort to prevent any illegal felling of trees for the purpose of charcoal making. It is also requested to monitor the source of wood for charcoal industries," said the letter, which was reviewed by Mint.

The ministry also requested the governments of states and union territories to “take up the matter with all industries using wood-charcoal to explore possibilities of adopting the alternatives suggested by IIFM (Indian Institute of Forest Management) in their report."

IIFM, among Indian government’s premier institutes for forestry research and management, recently brought out a report on illegal felling of trees in forest areas for charcoal.

The Harsh Vardhan-led environment ministry also asked states to ensure the process of wood-charcoal making and the industries using wood-charcoal do not violate any prescribed environmental regulations/norms.

“States/UTs also should ensure that the process of wood- charcoal making and the industries using wood-charcoal do not violate any prescribed environmental regulations/norms," the letter stated.

The move is significant as the IIFM study observed that “there is possibility of increase in the demand of charcoal in India in the future" and this may “necessitate further strengthening of the forest protection and monitoring system". It, however, said there was “no direct relation between charcoal making and deforestation".

Different state agencies have made regulations related to the charcoal production, use and transition. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 defines charcoal as a ‘forest produce’ and as per this act, in the reserve forests, burning, collecting and removing charcoal is an offence.

As per the study, states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are the major producers of charcoal. It also noted that industrial sectors that are major users of charcoal are silicon industries and the cooking sector. However, there are many other industrial sectors which require charcoal in small quantities.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s letter also highlighted industry wise alternatives suggested by the IIFM study for charcoal based industries.

For instance, for the industry related to pharmaceutical, purification/filters (water/air), hotel, carbon black, the letter noted alternative of agro charcoal and recommended “mandatory use of pollution free charcoal production technology" and “Forest Development Corporations as nodal agency of charcoal supply chain (with known wood source)".

Similarly, for the “Carbon Di-Sulphide manufacturing and textile" sectors, it suggested natural gas as an alternative and recommended a fixed period to convert the old charcoal based plants into natural gas based plant.

For “Ferro Alloy industry and Steel industry", it suggested alternatives like “pet coke, agro charcoal" and recommended “utilization of degraded land, private land for the production of sustainable wood based charcoal."

The letter also quoted alternatives for the rubber and incense sticks (aggarbatti) making industries.

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