Deforestation In India: Is The Draft National Forest Policy Compatible With The 33% Goal?

The Center for Global Development recently released a “Future of Forests” study that looks at the impact of tropical deforestation and the results are alarming. The study projected the future of tropical deforestation both with and without carbon pricing schemes and found that globally, 289 million hectares of tropical forest will be destroyed between 2016 and 2050. That is quite literally an area the size of India. The report went on to highlight that one-seventh of all of the Earth’s tropical forests will be gone. This has a direct – and very scary – impact on climate change, animals living in forests and humans who depend on them for survival. But despite this information and age, where offsetting carbon emissions is a common goal for all of mankind, India is looking to promote its domestic forestry industry – why? And what impact will this have?

India has announced changes to their National Forest Policy of 1988. The initial policy, which was radical at the time, prioritized ecological security, biodiversity and the rights of forest dwellers, over economic benefits. But the recently released draft policy marks a regression from that position. The policy suggests moving towards a public-private partnership model. It looks to encourage the production forestry industry in India to meet the global growing demand for timber.

In India, deforestation is potentially happening at the most rapid rate across the globe, as just under 275 million people are dependent on forests both for subsistence and commercial livelihood, meaning that one-fifth of the country’s population are dependent on a shrinking resource. To counteract this, the Indian government had set a target of 33% forest coverage of India’s geographical area. They’ve been working towards this goal since 1987, but this recent draft policy seems to indicate a move away from these priorities. The past 30 years have seen deforestation ramp up in India and the country’s 2017 State of Forest report indicated that 14,000 square kilometers of Indian forests have been cleared to make way for 23,716 industrial projects. This very different approach that does not seem to be moving the country towards the 33% goal – in fact, it is in the opposite direction.

Civil society and forestry groups alike are unhappy with the proposed reform. Over 100 civil society organizations from across the country have drafted a joint commentary on the draft policy, in which they have highlighted issues and urged the government against going ahead. The commentary argues that “there is no reason to believe the participation of private parties will result in better regeneration of the forests or enhanced ecosystem and livelihood services to the local communities…but rather a risk that it will result in corrupt and fraudulent practices.” The Indian government has not responded, but says it will examine all perspectives before settling on a draft position.

While it is not clear which path forward the Indian government will take, it is alarming that at a time when forests are more important to us than ever before, the Indian government wants to destroy them. This shift in attitude seems incompatible with the government’s 33% goal and the international position.

Montana Vaisey