Mr Environment Minister, India is carrying out deforestation, not reforestation

On Wednesday morning, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar gave India one more reason to think of him as among the country’s worst environment ministers till date.

As the Indian Express reported, the minister sent out an intra-ministry letter on July 16 asking bureaucrats to replace the term “diversion” of forest land with “reforestation” in their communications. When asked about this, Javadekar told the Express: “For every diversion of forest land for a project… compensatory afforestation on equal area of non-forest land is a must. So ultimately, it is reforestation only. This is all about thinking positive and using the right expression.”

The power of positive thinking apart, what Javadekar said is wrong. Compensatory afforestation is not working in India.

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The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha now face a more formidable enemy than Vedanta

Two years ago, when the tribal people of Odisha’s thickly forested Niyamgiri hills unanimously rejected the plans of the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in their lands, it appeared that a decade-long struggle to protect the hills and forests – and the tribal way of life – had finally succeeded.

But that might have been a case of premature celebration. Fear and anger are again stalking the hills.

Security camps of the Central Reserve Police Force have been mushrooming in this part of Kalahandi district. From one camp established five years ago, there are now three on the periphery of Niyamgiri. More are expected to come up.

Government officials cite rising Naxal activity as the reason for the security buildup. But among the tribal Kondhs, the increased paramilitary presence is leading to fears that the government is trying to force them off their land.

How the congress subverted its biggest rural development programme in Mizoram

Until last fortnight, most nights in Mizoram were lit up by the red glow of forest fires. Long thin lines of flame, rising and falling along the contours of the hills, ate their way up through the forest. It was jhum time in the state, when farmers who practice the traditional practice of slash-and-burn cultivation torch large sections of jungle so that they can begin planting next season’s crops.

In Mizoram, as in other parts of the North East, the forests are owned by the local community. There is little individually-owned farmland. Each year, villages burn a part of their community forest to clear land for farming. The next year, they move to a new tract, leaving the previous one fallow for the soil to recover, returning to it after some years.

This year, the administration set March 15 as the deadline for burning forests. And so, in the evenings, even in the state’s capital of Aizawl, one could see thick tendrils of smoke rising from its surrounding hills. In the mornings, one woke up to see wisps of soot and burnt leaves on the ground and in the air.

in 2011, the congress government in mizoram launched NLUP — new land use policy. ostensibly to get farmers out of jhum cultivation. in this story, i take stock of how the programme is working. and find that it has been subverted by the state government into nothing a tool for gathering voters by doling out patronage.

on the quantum of natural forests in india

India has no more than 3.3 lakh sq kms of land under real forests, less than half the number claimed by the environment ministry in the 2013 forest survey released last week.

for the longest time, india’s environment ministry has been claiming india is adding forests, not losing them. this assertion, as a bunch of academics have argued, is built around increasingly lax definitions re what qualifies as a forests. this old article describes their concerns. the good news is that the forest survey of india, which conducts these biennial forest surveys, has vastly improved its methodology in its latest report. what it found echoes what many have felt — but the state has denied — for a long while. india’s natural forests are in steep decline. and now stand at less than half of what the government claims as forest cover.

On the new forest diversion norms

Last week, India’s environment ministry overhauled the process it follows for identifying forests where industrial activities can be permitted. Instead of using six parameters — forest type, biological richness, wildlife value, density of forest cover, integrity of the landscape, and hydrological value – for deciding whether a forestland can be given over for, say, mining, ministry officials told the media that the ministry would henceforth use four parameters. According to media reports, ministry officials said biological richness would be dropped as that is accounted for under wildlife value. Similarly, the ministry clubbed hydrological value with forest cover. In the process, the ministry has mixed up concepts which, as forest ecologist Harini Nagendra says, are related but not replaceable.

– for deciding whether a forestland can be given over for, say, mining, ministry officials told the media that the ministry would henceforth use four parameters.

Accor ..

the strange case of the missing 2013 forest cover report

A crucial appointment and general elections have delayed the biennial government report on the state of Indian forests. This report, which was due in 2013, was first delayed because the Forest Survey of India (FSI), which conducts the survey, was headless for six months. And then, the ministry of environment held back the report, citing elections and Election Commission approval.

While the ministry plays down the delay — just a few months, I was told — this story argues that any delay has significant impacts, and that this latest instance of indifference only underscores the urgency to overhaul how India calculates — and vastly over-estimates — her forest cover.

on rising murmurs of rent seeking in india’s environment ministry

while working on the coal and hydel stories (the latter is yet to be published), i kept hearing about rising corruption in the environment ministry. some of those conversations found their way into a story in today’s ET, by my colleagues soma, urmi and me, on why the environment ministry and environment minister jayanthi natarajan are facing flak for project delays. see the story here.