Home > politics > policy > Govt may ask private sector to chip in to increase forest cover

New Delhi: Faced with a lack of funds, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) is considering asking the private sector, including industries, to help with the task of rehabilitating degraded forests so that India can reach its 27-year-old target of increasing the area under forests to 33%.

As per the latest India State of Forest Report 2013, the total forest and tree cover is around 789,164 sq. km—around 24.01% of the country’s total geographical area.

The National Forest Policy of 1988 set a target of putting a minimum of one-third of the geographical area under forest and tree cover.

However, India remains far from achieving that goal due to the increasing pressure on land resources from a growing population, a funding crunch and developmental activities, such as mining, that lead to a loss of forest land. “These are some of the primary reasons behind the idea of involving private players, apart from the government, in developing forest cover. There is great potential for improvement of quality and productivity of degraded forests for realization of their full ecological potential. Thus, we are proposing to seek participation of private sector, including industries, for rehabilitation of degraded forests," said a senior MoEF official.

Around 41,383 sq.km.—about 1.26% of India’s total geographical area—falls under the degraded forests category.

Degraded forest are those forest areas whose capacity to produce ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and wood products, decreases. The degradation is caused mainly due to unsustainable logging, agriculture, invasive species, fire, fuelwood gathering and livestock grazing, among others.

The proposal comes from the MoEF’s experience that shows the government, by itself, will not be able to achieve the goal.

“Considering the huge challenges in restoration of degraded forests, it is felt from experiences that only government’s efforts may not suffice and rehabilitation of degraded forests needs special attention. We are working for greater involvement of all stakeholders, including industries, in afforestation and rehabilitation of degraded forest lands. This would certainly boost the financial resources towards afforestation and tree plantation," the MoEF official added.

The ministry believes the move would improve the productivity of forests and help in realizing their optimum potential which would benefit all.

According to the ministry, the rehabilitation of degraded forests would increase the supply of wood and non-timber forest produce such as bamboo and medicinal plants from forests to local communities, which, in turn, would help improve livelihoods and generate jobs.

The ministry also thinks the increased supply of wood for wood-based industries for meeting domestic requirement would help the nation save on foreign exchange.

The rehabilitation of degraded forests would ensure increased supply of wood and non-timber forest products.

“The plan, if it goes through, will have many effects. For instance, it would contribute to India’s efforts to mitigate climate change. Wherever degraded forests would be developed, they would also improve ecosystem services. It would also protect forests from encroachments and further degradation," the MoEF official added.

According to the ministry, another interesting way the degraded forests could be afforested would be to get private companies to undertake compensatory afforestation in lieu of using forest land for non-forestry purposes like setting up of industries.

Though the ministry has already drawn up the plan, it has decided to seek comments from all state governments on the issue before going ahead with it.

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