Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Formula for More Land and Resource Grabbing: Dangers of the Green India Mission

Forest Movements' Joint Statement

As national platforms of forest dwellers' movements and struggle organisations, we strongly oppose the “Green India Mission” recently announced by the Ministry of Environment and as part of the National Action Plan for Climate Change. This Mission, in its current form, will lead to increased land grabbing, violation of people's rights, environmental destruction, and loss of common lands and livelihoods based on them, without in any way genuinely responding to the burning problem of climate change.

  • India's forests and forest lands are the homelands of millions of people, the adivasis and other forest dwellers. Huge areas of land officially classified as “forest” are in fact being lived in, cultivated or otherwise used and depended upon by forest dwellers. Despite the Forest Rights Act of 2006, however, their community rights to common forests, lands etc. are still being trampled upon and ignored.

  • The Forest Department's main “green” activity is tree plantations. Such “afforestation” programmes often take place on cultivated lands (including shifting cultivation fallows), village commons, community pasture lands etc. that actually belong to people; they also destroy biodiversity rich natural open forests and grasslands, reducing people's access to forest produce and animal fodder. In October 2008, the Standing Committee on Environment and Forests sharply criticised such programs1, saying “afforestation ... deprives forest dwellers and adivasis of some or all of their lands and impacts their livelihoods and basic needs – for which they are neither informed, nor consulted, nor compensated.”

This is what the Green India Mission seeks to promote, despite lip service to the contrary. The true impact of any policy is shaped not by its rhetoric but by its institutional structure:

  1. Despite much talk of gram sabha and village based management, all the Mission's bodies above the village – the Division and State Forest Development Agencies etc. - are controlled by the Forest Department (Paragraph E). How is the gram sabha to manage anything if funds, policies and coordination are controlled by the Forest Department?
  2. Within the village, the non-statutory Joint Forest Management Committee is slipped in as a “sub committee of the gram sabha”, when it is, once again, controlled by the Forest Department and not accountable to the village. There is even talk of twisting the Forest Rights Act – which explicitly provides for gram sabha control over forests – to legitimise JFM Committees and vest them with legal status (Paragraph 5.4.1.(b)). Thus, the undermining of local control begins in the policy text itself. Instead of replacing Joint Forest Management, the document is promoting it.
  3. So-called “community agents” are to be hired and trained, but once again we find that they are to be under the Forest Department, and the document even says they can be used to “augment Forest Department staff” (i.e. presumably serve as departmental contract labour). This appears to be a further extension of Forest Department control over village decision making, thereby undermining the decision making authority of the gram sabha.
  4. The Forest Department has neither the expertise nor the skill to implement “restoration of ecosystems and habitat diversity,” nor is there space for such expertise. Within the document itself, the old Department line shows through: forest restoration is almost equated with plantations (Para 5.2.2) and grassland restoration with grazing reduction (5.2.3). The document totally ignores indigenous and local knowledge about ecosystems and eco-restoration.
  5. The only really measurable targets given are for plantations and some schemes such as stove distribution. As funding is largely target driven in the government system, this indicates where the money will go. The draft talks of 20 million hectares being afforested, but this is effectively impossible, as such a huge area of land will have myriad existing uses and rights. The draft also refers to 44,000 crores being spent. Such enormous targets, with such an institutional structure, will only result in more land grabbing and corruption.

What will this actually lead to? We can expect the following consequences:

  1. Industrial monocultures as a result of plantation programs – while expressing the point that monocultures are “more vulnerable”, the draft document nowhere rules them out, and they would be the natural result of this process. These would be harmful to the environment and dangerous for people's rights and livelihoods (lip service on these issues notwithstanding).
  2. A commoditisation of forests, converting people's homelands and livelihood resources, without even consulting them, into tradable commodities through the system of carbon trading. This will likely involve private companies as well, triggering even more land grabbing. The carbon storage figures that are given are clearly aimed at establishing a basis for such a system. In reality, such figures are usually hogwash. Forests do not consist of just standing trees – trees grow, fires and other disasters take place, people and wildlife consume non-timber forest produce, etc. Forests are constantly changing. An obsession with carbon storage and incentives in the form of trading will lead companies and the government to shut off forests from all use by people, on the one hand, and on the other will encourage fictional carbon storage figures.
  3. Conversion of areas such as pastures, grazing areas, shifting cultivation fallows, and other common lands into plantations for the purpose of meeting targets and earning profits through carbon trading.

The true threats to the climate and India's environment arise from resource grabbing, unequal resource use and expropriation by corporates and elites. These are not being addressed at all, and instead such sham programs – whose benefits are grossly exaggerated and almost impossible to actually calculate – are being proposed as an eyewash. The Green India Mission is likely only to result in conflict, resistance, impoverishment and displacement, while itself causing environmental damage.

Any such Mission has to begin with a democratic framework that, in particular, disempowers the Forest Department and creates the space for genuine people's empowerment. This document does the opposite. Hence, we oppose this program and call instead for the Environment Ministry and the Central government to respect people's rights, indigenous knowledge and democratic control over forest and land resources, which will do far more to tackle climate change than such dangerous programs.

1194th report of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, on the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill 2008.

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