Centre’s draft forest policy moots green cess

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The Environment Ministry has proposed a new policy for the management of forests that among other things proposes a green cess to promote “ecologically responsible behaviour” and called on the government to promote the sustainable use of wood.

“Wood has a significantly lower carbon footprint than many of the substitutes that consume fossil fuels in their production. Use of wood also has the potential to create new green jobs by giving a boost to indigenous manufacturing using locally grown raw material. Thus promotion of wood use, obtained from sustainably-managed forests and trees, would play a positive role in mitigating climate change and ensuring sustainable living. Governments and stakeholders must …shift from regulating to promoting cultivation, harvesting, transportation and marketing of wood,” the policy added. This even as the forest policy also emphasises that the government “must double tree cover, outside forests, within a decade.”

Results-based framework

While open to public comments until the June 30, the National Forest Policy, 2016, prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests’s Indian Institute of Forest Management, says governments must “switch focus from forests to landscapes, from canopy cover to healthy ecosystems, from substituting wood to promoting sustainable wood use, from participatory approaches to empowerment, from joint forest management to community forest management and from qualitative policy statements to a results-based policy framework.”

It proposes a national implementation framework to be in place within six months of the notification, and exhorts States to draft their state forest policies and prepare an implementation framework.

“Environmental cess, green tax, carbon tax etc. may be levied on certain products and services for facilitating ecologically responsible behaviour, garnering citizen’s contribution and supplementing financial resources,” the policy adds.

Boost to native species

India has set an ambitious target of bringing a third of its geographical area under forest-and-tree cover within a decade, up from the current one-fourth.

The policy acknowledges it but recommends that this be done by replenishing these lands with native species rather than “introducing exotic species.”

In a nod to the Union government’s controversial decision to declare certain animals as “vermin” and implicitly sanctioning the slaughter of nilgai, wildpigs and monkeys in certain States, the forest policy recommends mitigating human-wildlife conflicts by taking up habitat enrichment, providing adequate and timely compensation in case of injury or loss of human life, property, crop damage or livestock casualties and developing teams of well-equipped and trained forest personnel. An independent expert said promoting the use of wood outside forests could incentivise forest dwellers to not gather firewood from forests.

“Overall the policy deserves a cautious welcome because it talks of diverting forest land as a last resort and replenishing degraded forest,” said Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First.