[Solved] Examine the status of forest resources of India and its resultant impact on climate change (UPSC GS-1 Mains 2020)

The biennial “India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2019” expressed that the complete woodland and tree front of the country with 80.73 million hectares is 24.56% of the all out topographical space of the country and forest resources of India.

An assessment of the situation with woodland assets of India and its resultant effect on environmental change is as per the following:

  • Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra followed Madhya Pradesh which has the biggest region savvy backwoods cover in the country. There has been an expansion of more than 13 lakh hectares of woodland and tree cover in the previous few years having an effect on the measure of carbon dioxide in the environment.
  • India’s all out mangrove cover is 4,975 sq km. There is an increment of 54 sq. km in mangrove cover across Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha. The Mangrove environments, which offer numerous biological administrations, are undermined by environmental change. Yet, this expansion is a positive sign for keeping up their uniqueness and biodiversity wealth.
  • Bamboo covers 16 million hectare field. An expansion of 0.32 million hectares is seen in bamboo bearing region. Its advantages incorporate critical environment administrations relating to afforestation/reforestation, subterranean carbon stores, exceptionally powerful carbon sinks, assisting human social orders with adjusting to environmental change coordinating it into different frameworks like urbanization, croplands, agroforestry, and so forth
  • India has seen an expansion of 42.6 million tons in the carbon stock. The complete carbon stock in nation’s timberland is around 7,125 million tons. Environmental change relief via carbon loading is basic, as it implies the total amount of carbon held inside a pool at a predefined time. Woodlands are critical carbon pools and have incredible ramifications for the worldwide carbon cycle.
  • According to the latest ISFR report (2019), the total forest and tree cover in the country has increased by 5,188 km2 in the last two years. However, the cover under the category of ‘dense’ and ‘moderately dense’ forests as determined in 2017 has degraded into open forests, scrub, and even non-forest areas at an unprecedented rate . Open forests have low tree cover density, and therefore, an even lower carbon sequestration capacity.

India is quite vulnerable to effects of climate change due to

  • its 7500 km long coastline which makes it prone to cyclone on eastern coast and heavy rains on western coast .
  • its dependency on agriculture which is dependent on rainfall and weather
  • its states present in Himalayan region which are prone to landslides and avalanches
  • its dependency on rivers which are drying up due to global warming
  • its high population whose demand are to be met using the scarce resources

However, the burnt of climate change is mostly borne by poor population due to its inability to protect itself from vagaries of nature and dependency on natural resources .

  • Farmers : Spells of heavy rains in some areas and drought in other damage crops which are the only source of livelihood for 50 % of India’s population .
  • Poors in coastal areas : Population living in coastal areas are dependent on fishing for their livilihood . Warming of oceans have led to increased events of cyclones in Bay of Bengal and decline in fishing resources.
  • Flooding in Bihar, Assam and Kerala adversely affected villages which got submerged by rivers flowing nearby . Vector borne diseases spread after flooding affects locals in areas . Water bodies also get contaminated .
  • Food Security : Low productivity in Fishing and agriculture affects food security by raising prices of essential items which poor cannot afford .
  • In extreme weather events like low temperature and heat waves , poor are exposed to extreme conditions due to improper clothing and housing .

Forest Governance in India: Key Policies

  • The Indian Forest Policy of 1952 provided a formal recognition to the protective role of forests and established a national target of 33 percent for forest cover.
  • Later, the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 (amended in 1988 and 2003) and Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 were enacted to control further deforestation of forest areas in India by making the approval of the central government mandatory for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
  • The National Forest Policy was issued some years later, in 1988, and brought a paradigm shift from a revenue-oriented forest management approach to a conservation-oriented one.
  • The 1988 policy, which was finally implemented in 1990, laid the foundation of the joint management approach that necessitated the coordination between village communities, NGOs, and State forest departments.
  • Over the years, the unabated degradation of the country’s forest cover pushed the government to enact The National Forestry Action Programme in 1999, with the key aim of raising forest cover to 25 percent by 2007 and 33 percent by 2012.
  • Consolidating all afforestation schemes under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) was launched in 2002 as part of the Tenth Five-Year Plan.
  • Meanwhile, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 recognises the traditional rights of communities over forest land and addresses issues concerning the transfer of forest lands under the management of tribal communities, to the state government.
  • This also highlighted the history of Indian forest management as being spearheaded by local communities. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) 2008 commits to bring one-third of India’s geographic area under forest cover, through afforestation.
  • These policies would indicate that India has a strong policy framework that emphasises the conservation aspect of forest ecosystems.  Furthermore, in an attempt to restore deforested and degraded land, India has taken up various other commitments, such as the Nationally Determined Contributions, and the Bonn Challenge.
  • However, despite these rigorous efforts in policy and programmes, India’s combined forest and tree cover has only increased to 24.56 percent of the geographical area. provoking significant concerns over the achievement of both the country’s targets for forest conservation, and climate goals.

A Roadmap for Forest resources Regeneration

India’s imperative is to ensure that deforestation is curtailed and conservation efforts are pursued for existing biodiversity-rich forests and other vital ecosystems like wetlands and grasslands, which are highly productive and harbour wildlife, many of which are endangered. This would require the cessation of land use change, work on forest conservation with greater urgency, and more focused land restoration.

Forest resources :Redefining ‘forests’ and how to measure them( Forest resources)

An important element of a sound roadmap for forest regeneration is a redefinition of what is considered a ‘forest’. Moreover, rather than rely on satellite mapping of canopy cover or hectares of trees, the focus should shift to the measurement of the relative density of a ‘thriving forest’ or an ‘ecosystem’. 

Updating forestry policies

The National Forest Policy of 1952 and 1988 as well as existing forest regulations, have become ineffective in protecting and conserving forest resources. A new forest policy, therefore, is vital in order to provide an overarching framework and direction for the management and regulation of forests , such new policy would consider current changes in forests due to pressing issues such as climate change and pollution.

Empowering local communities

For a forest landscape as diverse and densely populated as India’s, the agency of local communities in operational decision-making and forest governance is essential. The participation of local communities must work synonymously with the coordination of impartial and credible processes to operationalise sustainable use and conservation strategies.

The forest sector in India has a huge potential to mitigate climate change by achieving an additional 3 billion tonnes of carbon sequestration by 2030. However, achieving this would require serious efforts towards conservation, restoration and regeneration of the country’s forests. The sector has highly ambitious targets to achieve, yet there are significant implementation challenges

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