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.
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