The fact is that our environment is continuously changing and, therefore, the need is to become increasingly aware of the problems surrounding us. The time is to take timely action to not only monitor the changes continuously but to take the society on board so as to meet the challenges.
For the last two decades, the Union Government, as also the judiciary, has taken steps to check the degradation of our forest resources and environmental pollution. Of all nations in the world, Indians and Governments, both at the Centre and States, need to be on their toes.
A population of 130 crores and still growing is gradually making this landmass unsustainable as we face shortage of life sustaining resources like water, fuel and food. Growing food agriculture practices cause damages to the environment through the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides. Currently, over population is one of the major environmental problems that should attract the attention of environmental planners.
Issues of global warming, deforestation and consequent loss of bio-diversity, pollution of soil, water and air, natural disasters and displacement of people due to disruption of livelihood opportunities are
increasingly getting manifested with greater vigour every year. Untimely rains, excessive rainfall within few days with prolong dry spells are upsetting the farmers by disturbing the hydrology, thereby causing them heavy losses which results in law and order problem.
The department of environment was created in 1980 and after forestry wing from the Agriculture Ministry was merged with it in 1985, the Ministry of Environment and Forests came into existence. The journey of environmental laws began with the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. This was coupled with the enactment of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, along with States Acts, like the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977; and Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 were existing already.
Now in 2006, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was implemented to empower the tribal people and vest with them land rights. The TN Godavarman case was watershed in the management of forest resources through its 1996 epoch making order and still continuing, redefining and strengthening the forest laws.
After more than three decades of the creation of the Environment Ministry, in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in order to give policy thrust to climate change, renamed it as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The success of any policy or programme depends upon its implementation infrastructure in the field.
The Forest departments are well equipped with trained staff. Environmental laws are implemented by the Central and State pollution control boards. To strengthen the set up for generation of knowledge, the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), with a network of institutions all over the country, the Wildlife Institute of India and National Biodiversity Authority of India were established. The forest cover is being scientifically monitored by the Forest Survey of India.
It is time to review the performance of these institutions so that the emerging challenges are met successfully. The recently released 'State of Forest Report 2017' reports marginal increase in the forest cover. However, for the last more than 25 years, degraded forests have not reduced, rather they have increased from 24 million ha in 1985 to over 30 million ha now.
Forest Type reassessment of 2013 by ICFRE has clearly indicated that most forests are losing soil moisture and hydrology is getting severely affected which is having a direct impact on our agriculture, water availability and rain fed rivers. For the long-term survival of the people in and around the forests and forest fringe villages and as also for carbon sequestration, it is necessary to de-politicise the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.
A recent study by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is a matter of serious concern and Prime Minister Modi must take a decision on priority to fix a cut-off date for its implementation. The study is based on a scrutiny of 66,300 FRA rights on 10,7897 ha spread across 19 Maharashtra districts. Till 2012, Maharashtra emitted 5,70881 tonnes of GHG on account of deforestation due to the recognition of rights under the Act. Thus, carbon sequestration has been lost in 14,669 ha of forests.
Wrong implementation of this Act is encouraging encroachments and depriving the tribal population of life sustaining resources. The land vested must yield productive resources for livelihood in a planned manner. There has to be a political consensus on this and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change must work in tandem with Ministry of Tribal Affairs and other Ministries to see that the adverse impact of deforestation is not felt by the forest dependent people.
The Paris Climate Change Accord builds upon the bottom-up approach of voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs) from both developed and developing countries. The Accord urges parties to enhance their pre-2020 emission cuts and acknowledges the
significant gap between current pledges and what is needed to be consistent with holding temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Countries are expected to submit revised INDCs by 2020, and every five years thereafter. India submitted its action plan on October 2, 2015, committing to reduce growth of its carbon emissions by 33-35 per cent of the economy by 2030 and to enhance its forest cover by 25 to 30 million hectares to create a carbon sink of around three billion tonnes.
It is being claimed that in the field of renewal energy, due to proactive investments, we may be able to achieve the target of 175 Gigawatt. However, in the case of forestry, it may prove to be a pipe-dream, considering the fragmented investment proposals, institutional deficiency and lack of synergy/convergence among various actors.
It is therefore, necessary that Prime Minister Modi takes special interest in revamping the environment sector with far-reaching reforms. In order to ensure success of 'Green India Mission' the Government needs to adopt a pragmatic reformist approach and integrate its working within the overall landscape developmental perspective of the country.
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