An Agenda for 2011 : The Year of Forests

By R S Tolia • Third Innings • 25 Dec 2010

Last week of December usually is one when one starts getting all kinds of calendars and diaries meant for use during the ensuing year. The first one this writer received this year came from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Uttarakhand, Dr. R.B.S. Rawat. This calendar informs the user that it was on 20th December 2006 that the United Nations General Assembly resolved to observe year 2011 as the International Year of Forests, concerned that the forest resources of this planet had continued to shrink at a frightening pace during the last millennium. Forest must remain, it says very rightly, very high on the global agenda.

 

Modest Claims made

 

Through this calendar we are assured that the Forest department will continue to perceive itself as "the trustee and manager of the rich forests brimming with awesome biodiversity, " and believes that in any effort " towards sustainable management, conservation and development of the forests and biodiversity, the role of the local people will always remain central ", and it is with this perspective in mind " a number of people-centric initiatives have been taken ( by them ).. use of Pirul ( pine needles ), in making fuel briquettes and power generation is providing employment opportunities to the people living in and around forests at their doorsteps … use of Pirul in making check-dams for soil conservation has not only proved cost-effective and efficient " but it has also improved the chemical quality of the impounded and run-off water.  

 

Dehradun : Mecca of Forestry

 

While this beautiful calendar is the first to reach a large number of homes to adorn their walls one hopes that the Agenda for 2011 IYF is not just as brief and succinct as this calendar write-up suggests. Dehradun, let us remind ourselves, is a city which could well claim itself as the veritable Mecca of Forestry, in more than one sense. Further, as the host state of this Mecca of Forestry Uttarakhand has many a feathers which deserve to be proudly claimed and recognized by its own Forest department. Host to the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education ( ICFRE ), Forest Research Institute of India ( FRI ), Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy ( IGFNA ), State College of Forestry, for the training of Rangers, Forest Survey of India ( FSI ) and the Wild-life Institute of India ( WII ), all of them institutions of national stature and majority of them precursor of their respective domains of learning, would have made any city proud even if it had housed any one of them singly. Taken together these Forestry-centric institutions Dehradun emerges as a city which has an amazing diversity of scientific disciplines. Space constraint prohibits me from elaborating on the entire range of these national centres of excellence from saying more about the rest. Accordingly, residents of Dehradun must be naturally looking forward to an array of events, during this International Year of Forestry. Those who may be responsible for ensuring that this special year dedicated to the discipline and subject of Forestry does not get just frittered away in  solemnizing rituals, especially holding workshops and seminars which do not yield any direct benefit or a new insight, are advised that the year must be used to re-visit the entire journey that this sector and discipline has traversed so far and they make an effective use of the IYF for re-inventing Forestry for making them totally people-centric.   

 

Birth Place of Forest Conservancy

 

Readers of Garhwal Post would be happy to know that they belong to a state which arguably gave birth to the very concept of " forest conservancy ". Records in ICFRE, particularly those celebrating the Centenary of FRI, would prove that it was the concern expressed by Commissioner Major Henry Ramsay ( 1856-84 ) on the health of dense forests around Kaladhungi area, where an iron smelting Company was proposed to be established ( Kumaon Iron Company ) and the sleepers required for the advancing railways linking Calcutta with North Western Provinces, that resulted in declaring all forests above foothills "reserved". It is not often disclosed in forestry records that the first ever "conservator of Forests " was Commissioner Ramsay, much before the Forest department itself was created ! I was indeed stunned to know from the Librarian of the otherwise redoubtable FRI Library that a Report written by Commissioner Major Ramsay on the sub-montane Forests in 1861 is not known to them, even though the same is mentioned both in the Centenary volume of the FRI and the Gazetteer of Almora, as one of the seven references ! Not only was Commissioner Ramsay the first ever Conservator of Forests but he also demonstrated how sustainable forestry could be practiced by successfully demonstrating it with the Management of Kham Estate Forests in Turai – Bhabar. Now all these details have been brought to official notice through this writers book- Founders of Modern Administration in Uttarakhand ( 1815-84 ).

 

Birth-place of Community Forestry

 

And when in the departmental hands this very concept of "forest- conservancy" got so ossified that local people, during mid-twenties of the last millennia, started burning these 'sarkari' forests and the Kumaon Parishad boycotted the Forest Grievances Committee offer to join the public hearings, that the Government recognized the difference in perceptions about the forests, as it existed between them and the people, the real stakeholders. The celebrated Forest Grievances Committee Report authored by that son of the soil, Govind Ballabh Pant, highlighted how the forests, which were the life sustaining system of the hill people, were very callously perceived by the government as merely a source of income, pure and simple. Thanks to Professor Ajai Rawat this book by Govind Ballabh Pant was reprinted again and one thing that deserves to be done on a very large scale is to not only to reprint this book again on a very large scale but bring out its Hindi translation, as well. In my view no other book explains the background of creation of Van Panchayats, the first officially blessed community forestry known to the world, better than this publication. Readers need to be told that it was this Report of the Forest Grievances Committee, of course under the chairmanship of Commissioner Wyndham that usher in what is popular today as the Van Panchayats. Typically, our Forest department, continues to harbour some strange kind of ill-will towards these Van Panchayats, epitomised by the objections of the then Conservator of Forest, who was ex-officio Secretary of the official Forest Grievances Committee.

 

So I am hardly surprized or bemused by not finding a mention of these two land-mark and historic contributions of Uttarakhand region in a calendar brought out by our Forest department commemorating importance of Forests today. Any other state would have definitely felt proud to be the inheritors of such a ' Green-Legacy ". I guess the department would have ample occasions to remedy this major omission, being brought to their notice, much before the actual commencement of the IYF. Sure enough measures would be taken by the various community based organizations to high-light these major contributions of this region and state to the history and development of forestry in these parts.

 

Improve and Consolidate other Contributions

 

As the IYF 2011 is yet to unfold officially and fully this author, and many others, will have many an occasion to reflect more leisurely on how India in general, and Uttarakhand in particular, have fared so far and what else remains to be done. Speaking of Uttarakhand, this writer believes, there are many themes which deserve a serious re-visit and a comprehensive strategic planning for each of them in order that development of forestry sector in Uttarakhand becomes a model for other forest-dominant and otherwise states to emulate. Let me very briefly catalogue a list of themes which deserve attention of the decision-makers :   

 

1. Strengthen the FRDC administrative structure :
Uttarakhand adopted a Forest-centric approach to rural development, in contrast to the agriculture-centric approach of its parent state Uttar Pradesh, for obvious reasons. The FRDC, being the second-senior most official, heading an umbrella covering all agriculture and allied development departments plus forest-related departments, bringing a synergy between the two. Periodic dislocations of departments only betray lack of understanding of the basic paradigm-shift brought in year 2000.  

This should be followed up by also strengthening the Industrial Development Commissioner ( IDC ) umbrella and Social Development Commissioner umbrella ( SDC). The principle needs to be internalized and explained to the political executives as well,

 

2. Modify and Improve  the Working Plan and PA Management Plan mechanisms.-Make them Participatory:

It is pity that while forest officials swear by their Working Plans, no officer wants to work as Working Plan Officer. No direct or promoted IFS officer should be allowed promotion after DFO rank unless he or she has done a full stint as a WPO. Those who for any reason have missed a stint should be made to undertake yearly reviews of Working Plans, and evaluated on that basis. Digitised all past Working Plans, ensure that WPOs do undergo a reading of all previous WPs and merely the last one, about to be revised. Re-visit the very concept of preparing Working Plans as they are based on the European concept of land sovereignty and are of European descent. Even though NK Joshi, the then DG Forests, GoI, modified the Guidelines but even those are mere cosmetics. In principle the Working Plans need not be status quo-ist but dynamic instrument of change in priority. Why not make the making of WP participative like the JFM, or the Van Panchayat Working Plans. Management of Reserved Forests also deserve to be made as participatory as the so-called JFM ( not yet fully participatory ).

 

3. Strengthen Van Panchayat Movement :

 

Almost al hill revenue villages are now covered by at least one Van Panchayat for every revenue village-there are more than 12,000 VPs in the state now. The two GOs on Van Panchayat issued before 2005, which had made creation of new VPs and expansion of the area of the existing, as the two arms of this new movement, now require close micro-management by the PCCFs, CCFs, CFs and DFOs as well as the district magistrates. While DMs have to ensure that the records are complete, encroachments are removed, elections are held strictly as per the new Rules, reservations for women, SC/ST et are ensured the forest officials are to ensure that all VPs are given entire so-called Civil and Soyam lands and the Micro-plans are made with great care and in time. Their funds are not stuck up and  Forest Corporations do not hold the funds back. The year is used to craft a stand alone Van Panchayat Act for Uttarakhand and the Rules provide for as much flexibility within rules as may be possible.

 

A stand alone Van Panchayat Act with liberal Rules will be the best gift that IYF could possibly bestow t Uttarakhand and its forest-dependent populations. Hereafter, if Uttarakhand could have just two kinds of Forest, namely ( i ) those managed by the village community themselves under Van Pan Panchayat Act & Rules, and ( ii ) Reserved Forest, managed by Forest department with active public collaboration, and no other kinds of forests- that could be considered as the best outcome of IYF year, in Utarakahnd.

 

4. Fully Implement The Scheduled Tribes and Other Indigenous Dwellers ( Recording of Rights) Act, 2006

 

Forest department, Rural development and Social Welfare Department, the last being the Nodal department  have to ensure that the sluggish progress of implementation of this historic Act is no more a hall mark of this state, which has been in the van guard of peoples' rights in natural resources any more. Community based organizations will have to come together and join hands in ensuring that the current pace of implementation is not accepted and those who are their dragging their feet are made accountable. The Uttarakhand Information Commission has already spelt out and mandated what each department i.e. revenue, forest, animal husbandry etc are required to do in terms of voluntarily making available all related papers to the concerned Gram Panchayats. This deserves to be followed up very vigorously.     

 

5. Follow –up  Other Land-mark Initiatives :

Uttarakhand has taken so many new initiatives in the forestry and forestry related fields that time permitting this writer would like to capture them in a single volume, as an elaboration. Let me enlist a few :

5.1 Forestry Rewards – make them more coveted, link these to incentive for promotion to the next level,

 

5.2 Conservation, Development and Harvesting Plan  – why the concept has been abandoned, and who is responsible ?

 

5.3 Implement the Cabinet Decision on of 2005 on Forest Rest Houses being used for Eco-tourism, and making Forest infrastructure self-sustaining,

 

5.4 Centre of Excellence Scheme, where each Forest Division was earmarked one Tree Species for all round development – Seabuckthorn, Cheura, Walnut, Bamboo, Trifala were few of the species which could have transformed the revenue side of Forest department. Not following these species has deprived the state revenues which could have been realized otherwise- it is like the revenue lost for the country in the 2 G Scam case ! Some one should be held responsible for callously neglecting such revenue earning initiatives –  it is really a crying shame, as these decisions form not only part of decisions taken at the highest level but are also recorded in departmental proceedings, and even published  !!

 

5.5 Conservators choosing Excellence Themes – Consciously a decision was taken, which this writer calls, Zero Cost Reforms, where every Conservator would be asked to pick some theme of their interest, they would be retained in the sector notwithstanding their subsequent promotion. It was a major decision and it cost the state nothing but groomed for this state experts in Bamboo and Fibre, Community Participation, Eco-tourism, Bio-fuel, Solid Waste Management, Medicinal Plants & Herbs and so on. This writer does not have to name them, as they are so well known, all over the country today. Was it sheer jealousy or a ossified mind-set which paid put to such innovative ideas and leads ?

 

This writer was indeed very disappointed in some bright officers belonging to the sector who instead decided to continue to tread  the good –old path of, " Come What May – A Holiday in Christmas and New Year is the Goal " ! A most tragic waste indeed of human resource, with great potential.

Lest this article is seen as a  litany of  ' missed opportunities ' for a year yet to dawn let me hasten to add what we all could be really proud of, besides what I have already recounted what the New Year Calendar should have proudly proclaimed to the whole world.

Uttarakhand is indeed proud of its forest officers and forest activists being recognized with the various Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Awards, exemplary example of Solid Waste Management best practice of Valley of Flowers, Project Butter Fly of Naini Tal, innovative Corbett Falls, Eco-Park of Dhanaulty, Eco-park of Patal Thaur ( Munsyari ), initiative of Bamboo and Fibre Board, contribution in formulation of National Policy on Other Fibers and initiatives in promotion of natural fibers, modular Bio-fuel project based on Jatropha, initaitive on Medicinal & Aromatic Plants ( not directly but through MAP Board ), marketing outlets for medicinal plants by Forest Corporation, registration of herbal –farmers and very comprehensively consolidating the Ayush stream of Alternate Medicine in the state. Many of these initiatives may not even be known to the officials of forest department themselves but some of these initiatives hold a potential which could make any state not only proud of itself but contribute to the exchequer of the state substantially.       

 

By effecting a paradigm-shift in the over all approach to rural development, from agriculture to forestry, perhaps Uttarakhand has given a lead to the entire country which ought to be not only highlighted adequately but also used pragmatically for ensuring that this state is able to demonstrate to the rest of the country how a particular " constraint ", as forests are usually seen and perceived by the protagonists of classical developmental thinking, is pragmatically converted into an " opportunity ". Readers would recall that it was again the initiative taken by Uttarakhand, through submission of an additional Memorandum to the Eleventh Finance Commission that a sum of Rs 1,000 crores was earmarked for the management of Forests by that Commission. It was no mean achievement but what remains to be done is to ensure that not only similar initiatives are undertaken by engaging itself energetically in the Climate Change dialogues, actively participating in various Nation Missions on Climate Change, winning projects under GEF, REDD + timely and innovatively using financial resources available to the department under various dispensations .    

 

Citizens of this state obviously have very high expectations from the forestry sector and it is hoped that this sector would not only re-dedicate itself to sustainable forestry but to sustainable mountain development though sustainable forestry, in this year  dedicated to the  Forestry sector.

* R. S. Tolia is chairman of the Central Himalayan Environment Association ( CHEA ) based at Naini Tal and he welcomes queries at  raghunandantolia47@gmail.com  and / or  rs-tolia@rediffmail.com.

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