According to latest statistics released by the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), India’s indigenous or native forest declined by 1.5-2.7 % between 1995 and 2005 – an alarming average of 2.4% per year and a loss of more than 124,000 sq km per year over the decade. The Ministry of Environment and Forests in India also admitted in January 2010 that in the last three decades, close to 110,000 hectares of forest land was lost to 1,309 cases of mining activity. The loss of forest cover comes at a time when there has been massive diversion of forest land for mining, industry and infrastructural purposes leading to alienation of thousands of adivasis and other backward communities dependant on the forest for their livelihood. The country has a slew of laws and policies that regulates access to forests and its conservation.
In its State of Indian Forests Report 2009, the Government claimed that India’s forest cover had increased 5 % per annum in 1995-2005, it now emerges that this increase has been on account of plantation drive, that includes plantation of eucalyptus, rubber tree, pine, jatropha and acacia among others. This may earn the country carbon credits under 2001 Kyoto Protocol but will not reverse the damage done to biodiversity, man and beast. The Indian government’s recent rejection of environment clearance to Vedanta’s $1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa may now come as a breather not only for the tribal community of Dongria Khond but also its precious eco-system that is home to several perennial springs, unique species of animals, plants and herbs. It’s time the country reversed its forest policy to include tribal and village community as stakeholders and caretakers of our precious resources.
* See Implementation of FRA