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Draft National Forest Policy 2018: An invitation to wrath of privatization on forestland

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Shimla: The Draft National Forest Policy 2018, which is intended to replace the National Forest Policy, 1988, is being perceived as an attempt to privatise the forests on the name of increasing productivity through Public-Private-Partnership model.

Over 150 organizations and environmental activists from all over India including Himachal Pradesh have written to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising objections to the serious flaws in it.

The government came out with this draft last month, for which they had invited comments and suggestions from concerned citizens before April 14.

After this proposal, the tribal, forest rights groups, and conservationists have rejected the policy on various grounds.  The strongest ground is the thrust on ‘production forestry’ and allowing entry of private companies in forestry projects for commercial plantations. 

Another big reason to worry is the authority the new Policy gives to Government to dilute the rights of the tribal people or those dependent on forest resources for their livelihood. The Forest Rights Act 2006 says the resources of a forest belong to its community.

Currently, there are provisions, which empower these forest communities to have a say when it comes to establishing commercial projects in their area. 

The environmental experts are of the opinion that the new policy is snatching this power from the community. It will minimize the resistance from locals while the government and private firms decide the fate of their forests.

Himachal Van Adhikar Manch is one of these 150 signatories of the submission made to the MoEFCC. 

The Manch condemned the draft and said it is facilitating the entry of the private sector in forestry.

Private sector works for profit and profit alone. The only way to protect forests is to make these habitants the incharge and strengthen sustainable forest-based livelihoods,

added the Manch convener, Akshay Jasrotia, added.

While there is a need to review the old policy of 1988, this draft undoes some very important principles that the previous policy had put in place for the protection of forests, strengthening of forest-dependent communities, and their role in this regard, the Manch said.

It is astonishing that this draft policy lacks perspective and recognition that was included in the Forest Rights Act 2006 to address the historical injustice inflicted on the Adivasis and other forest dwellers through the colonization of the forest.

The Act attempts to restore the forests back to its original custodians, caretakers and dependents, the Adivasis and other forest-dwelling people, and put in place democratic mechanisms to govern the forests’ said the memorandum.

However, the draft policy does not recognise such aspects. 

The policy comes close to the heels of another legislation called Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, which has created an institutional mechanism for the utilisation of funds realised in lieu of forest land diversion for non-forest or developmental projects.

The objective of the Fund Act is to mitigate the impact of diversion of such forestland for dams, mines, industries etc.

However, the Act does not put in any safeguard to ensure that the community has a say in the process of utilisation of the funds for activities on forest land. It is in striking contrast to the provision for forest-dwelling communities in the FRA Act. 

In Himachal, where close to 70% of the geographical area is technically under forest land, the implementation of the FRA has been poor as it is. Forestland dependent people are being evicted by being labelled encroachers,

said Manshi Asher, a member of  Himdhara Collective,  and also a signatory to the submissions made to the MoEFCC.

Moves like the CAMPA and 2018-forest policy will further alienate people from forests and lead to conflicts. The forest department and private corporations will be taking on plantation drives in forests on which the locals are already dependent

, Manshi added. 

Is India’s Forest Cover Really Increasing?

As per the draft National Forest Policy, 2018, there has been an increase in forest and tree cover over the last decades and a “reduction in the diversion of forest land for other land uses despite compelling demands from the increasing population, industrialization, and rapid economic growth”.

 However, the State of the Forest Report 2017 says the forest cover has changed in the country and that there is an increase of one percent.

There is no separate data for plantations and forests, which makes it difficult to understand the actual extent of deforestation of natural forests, as well as the hidden diversion of forestland to industries. 

Many experts have pointed out that the reported increase in forest and tree cover does not necessarily include natural forests but manmade industrial /commercial monoculture plantations. 

In fact, the current diversion of forestlands to various “development” schemes is fast changing the landscape and degrading natural forests.

 According to an analysis by the Delhi-based environment group, Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the Indian government has, on an average, diverted 122 sq km of forests for development projects every year between 2014 and 2017.

This is equivalent to a forestland of the size of 63 football grounds being cleared every day for three years. In other words, in one day, India loses around 135 hectares of natural forestland due to development schemes.

Natural forests serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance. These forests need to be protected.

However, the draft National Forest Policy 2018, despite stating this objective, appears not to be in favor of conservation and regeneration of forests but for capture of forests by private, corporate entities through PPPs, production forestry, increasing productivity of plantations, production of quality timber and ignores fuel-wood and fodder for communities dependent on it

, Akshay Jasrotia added.

The Draft clearly facilitates the forest-industry interface. You can read detailed submission made to the MoEFCC here.

Environment

Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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