Our Forest Policy was last revised in 1988, changes are therefore overdue. The new draft Forest
Policy 2018, however, ignores the lessons from this period and returns to the state-managed
forestry of the 1950s, but with a neoliberal twist.
Forest Policy 1988 –
The 1988 Forest Policy recognised the multiple roles of forests and prioritised environmental
stability over revenue maximisation.
It also acknowledged that the needs of forest-dependent communities must be the “first charge” on
Equally important, the policy emphasised people’s involvement in protecting and regenerating
forests, thus formally recognising the limitations of state-managed forestry.
Post-1988 experience –
Joint forest management (JFM) was initiated in the 1990s to implement the concept of people’s
involvement. Foresters created thousands of village forest committees but severely limited their
autonomy and jurisdictions. “People’s participation” by executive order was too weak and lopsided
a concept. Instead what was required was substantive devolution of control over forests.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 created a historic opportunity for such devolution. Its
community forest resource provisions gave communities rights to both access and manage forests.
To regulate forest diversions, the Supreme Court introduced a high ‘net present value’ (NPV)
charge on the lands diverted. But the court refused to assign any role to local communities affected
by such diversion, not even a share in the NPV received. However, the FRA democratised the
diversion process by requiring community concurrence for forest diversion once community forest
rights are recognised.
Issues with Forest Policy, 2018 –
Carping about the decline in forest productivity, the forest policy 2018 identifies “production
forestry” and plantations as the “new thrust area”.
Forest development corporations, white elephants of the statist era, are to be the institutional
vehicle. But in a neoliberal twist, they will now enter into public-private partnerships (PPPs) to bring
corporate investment into forest lands.
In the past, production forestry led to replacing natural oak forests with pine monocultures in the
Himalayas, natural sal forests with teak plantations in central India, and wet evergreen forests with
eucalyptus and acacia in the Western Ghats. All this has decimated diversity, dried up streams and
undermined local livelihoods. PPPs will entail more such destruction, with even the profits ending
up in corporate hands.
There is little about decentralised governance in the draft policy though the term “community
participation” is tossed around liberally. The draft talks of “ensuring synergy” between gram sabhas
and JFM committees, when the need is to replace JFM committees with statutorily empowered
gram sabhas, and revamp the colonial-era Indian Forest Act by incorporating FRA provisions.
Granting the private sector access to public resources to realise the Paris climate change
agreement targets seem to be the reason behind this new forest policy. The CAMPA Act and its
recently released rules demonstrate the government’s intent to fall back on state-managed forestry
to meet new “national” goals; the draft policy ropes in the private sector as well. This overlooks the
ecological and social implications of carbon and production forestry and the need for decentralised