In­dia’s for­est gov­er­nance needs sys­temic over­haul

The State must up­grade in­fra­struc­ture, ad­dress staffing is­sues and utilise the skills of the de­part­ment bet­ter

Hindustan Times (Amritsar) - - Comment - AKASH DE BADHAWA PARVEEN KASWAN Parveen Kaswan and Akash Deep Bad­hawan are In­dian For­est Ser­vice of­fi­cers The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

Last week, a wild ele­phant killed a se­nior In­dian For­est Ser­vice of­fi­cer, S Manikan­dan, in Karnataka’s Na­gara­hole Tiger Re­serve. The death again brings to the fore oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ards that foresters face reg­u­larly due to the un­pre­dictable na­ture of forests and wildlife.

The for­est de­part­ment is re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing one-fourth of In­dia’s land re­sources. De­spite de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges, it has pro­tected and im­proved for­est re­sources. For ex­am­ple, there has been an in­crease of over 8,021 sq km of for­est area, which is roughly 1% in­crease from 2015. They have also sci­en­tif­i­cally man­aged In­dia’s wildlife pop­u­la­tion: there has been an in­crease in the num­ber of tigers. Be­tween 2010 and 2014, In­dia’s tiger pop­u­la­tion grew from 1,706 to 2,226. Sim­i­lar pos­i­tive re­sults have been seen in ele­phant, rhino and croc­o­dile con­ser­va­tion projects.

While the State has paid hand­some trib­ute to Manikan­dan, the real ac­knowl­edg­ment of his con­tri­bu­tion will only hap­pen if there are sys­temic changes in for­est gov­er­nance. First, the State must ad­dress staffing is­sues. There is a 30-70% va­cancy in de­part­ments, with many states fail­ing to re­cruit staff. This re­duces op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency but also puts a lot of pres­sure on the ex­ist­ing front­line staff.

Sec­ond, there has to be bet­ter pro­vi­sion­ing of bud­get for reg­u­lar up­grad­ing of in­fra­struc­ture, which will im­prove work­ing con­di­tion of the staff and also tackle chal­lenges such as poach­ing and fires. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Rangers Fed­er­a­tion, In­dia lost 34 for­est guards in 2012, 14 in 2013 and 24 in 2014. These are re­ported ca­su­al­ties. For­est fires, an­i­mal at­tacks and dis­eases take away many more lives each year.

Third, utilise the full po­ten­tial of the de­part­ment. The jun­gles are also home to poor tribal and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. These com­mu­ni­ties, who are de­pen­dent on the mi­nor for­est pro­duces, need ac­cess to clean en­ergy, roads, and mar­kets where they can sell their for­est pro­duce. The for­est staff must be roped in to best im­ple­ment these projects. In fact, many state for­est de­part­ments have been do­ing well in terms of run­ning medic­i­nal plants boards, for­est in­fra­struc­ture cre­ation, lo­cal com­mu­nity en­gage­ment via eco­tourism. Such a di­verse do­main knowl­edge per­tain­ing to ground lev­els adds to the ver­sa­til­ity of the ser­vice. But these don’t get utilised and is a loss to the ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion and bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity of the gov­ern­ment schemes.

Last but not the least, In­dia is com­mit­ted to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Paris cli­mate change agree­ment and Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, which have am­bi­tious tar­gets for green­ing In­dia. This means more pres­sure on the un­der­staffed for­est de­part­ment.


■ In­dia lost 34 for­est guards in 2012, 14 in 2013 and 24 in 2014. For­est fires, an­i­mal at­tacks and dis­eases take away many more lives each year

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