Cen­tre ig­nores cer­ti­fy­ing agency

Pri­vate play­ers set up for­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body even as the min­istry, which man­ages 90 per cent of the forests, gives it a cold shoul­der


Orep­re­sen­ta­tives of N MARCH 16, for­est-based in­dus­tries, non­prof­its work­ing on forestry, au­di­tors and state for­est depart­ment of­fi­cials gath­ered at the swanky Ashoka Ho­tel in New Delhi.Amid much fan­fare and me­dia pres­ence,they launched the Net­work for Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion & Con­ser­va­tion of Forests (nccf ), a na­tional body that will set stan­dards and gov­ern the process for cer­ti­fy­ing In­dia’s forests and their prod­ucts on sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment. The par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of in­ter­na­tional forestry agen­cies,hailed the move.

How­ever, the Union Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, Forests and Cli­mate Change (moef&cc), which is the cus­to­dian of more than 90 per cent of the forests in the coun­try, gave the event a miss.

For­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a mar­ket-based tool that is vol­un­tar­ily ac­cepted by more than 120 coun­tries.It en­sures that man­u­fac­tur­ers of for­est prod­ucts con­form to ex­ist­ing laws and other eco­log­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial best prac­tices, such as pro­tec­tion of bio­di­ver­sity,main­tain­ing sus­tain­able har­vest lev­els and re­spect­ing land ten­ure rights of trib­als. Glob­ally, two for­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion schemes are preva­lent—For­est Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil (fsc) and Pro­gramme for the En­dorse­ment of For­est Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion (pefc). While fsc pro­vides cen­tralised cer­ti­fi­ca­tion against its uni­fied stan­dards across the world, pefc en­dorses na­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion bod­ies with coun­try-spe­cific cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards. nccf will soon set the stan­dards and mech­a­nism for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion which will be eval­u­ated by pefc.

Why for­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion

Pri­vate play­ers in the coun­try are push­ing for for­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion be­cause sev­eral de­vel­oped coun­tries have put a ban on non-cer­ti­fied tim­ber and tim­ber prod­ucts.“To thrive in the global mar­ket, many for­est pro­duce-based in­dus­tries have been im­port­ing raw ma­te­rial from cer­ti­fied forests from other coun­tries lately,”says an nccf mem­ber.

In­dia is also the only coun­try with a con­sid­er­able for­est cover that has not opted for a do­mes­tic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Some pri­vate play­ers and for­est devel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tions in the past have got fsc cer­ti­fi­ca­tions,but the per­cent­age is in­con­se­quen­tial. Of the to­tal 78.92 mil­lion ha for­est and tree cover in the coun­try, only 0.8 mil­lion ha of forests have been cer­ti­fied by fsc.

In­ter­est­ingly, moef&cc has been plan­ning to set up a na­tional for­est-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body for the past decade. In 2008, it set up the Na­tional For­est Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee (nfcc) to rec­om­mend an in­sti­tu­tional mech­a­nism to es­tab­lish a for­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem in In­dia. The com­mit­tee, in its re­port in 2010, said, “In­dia must not miss the op­por­tu­nity of drawing upon Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for Cred­i­bil­ity, Sus­tain­abil­ity and Jus­tice in the for­est arena of the coun­try.”In 2012,the then en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Jayan­thi Natara­jan an­nounced that the scheme was about to come through. Even a Cabi­net note was drafted and cir­cu­lated to start the scheme. But the plan did not ma­te­ri­alise.

Though moef&cc has put two of its of­fi­cials in the nccf board, the min­istry seems to be dis­tanc­ing it­self from the process of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.“We are not sure right now if cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is re­quired. There are other pri­or­i­ties in terms of pro­tec­tion of forests which re­quire more fo­cus.While the gov­ern­ment’s plans of es­tab­lish­ing the for­est cer­ti­fi­ca­tion coun­cil are still in the pipe­line, the in­dus­try is free to go ahead with its own cer­ti­fi­ca­tion mech­a­nism,”says Rekha Pai,in­spec­tor gen­eral of forests with the moef&cc.

Hid­ing mis­man­age­ment

moef&cc sources say the min­istry is op­posed to in­de­pen­dent scru­tiny of its forests.“A sec­tion of of­fi­cials thinks forests de­part­ments have been suc­cess­fully man­ag­ing forests for over 150 years and there is no need of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.A few are ap­pre­hen­sive that the coun­try’s forests may not meet the high global

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