Every dimension of forest-related decision-making, including rights of local communities, conversion of forests to non-forest uses and setting aside forests for wildlife conservation, has become the subject of intense scrutiny, debate and change. Most notably, the involvement of multiple actors, from local communities to the Supreme Court, has shifted the discourse from forest management to forest governance.
The reality is that India’s forests are witnessing a battle between the competing paradigms of the Indian Forest Act of 1927 and the 2006 Forest Rights Act. British-era regulations sought to gain control over forests via the forest department, to enable the colonial state to meet its needs for timber and revenue in the project of empire-building. The 2006 law looked to rectify the ‘historical injustice’ of treating India’s forest-dwelling communities as encroachers in landscapes they have lived in for generations, and to recognize their traditional usage rights through forest right titles (Choudhury, 2015)
Essar Energy, a fully integrated oil and gas company, is positioned to capitalize on India’s rapidly growing energy demand. The company has strong presence across the hydrocarbon value chain from exploration, and assets worth US$12 billion across the power and oil and gas industries (Essar, 2015).
According to Sushil Maroo, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, “One has to balance ecological concerns with India’s need for commodities and economic development.” Essar Energy serves retail customers in India through a modern, country-wide network of 2,000 operational and under-construction retail fuel outlets. “One way is for the government to look at the country as a whole, and say where mining can or cannot take place. Another way would be reforestation,” he continued (see Choudhury, 2015).
There is no simple or broadly accepted definition of “governance,” even though the term is widely used across many disciplines. Good governance is often associated with principles such as transparency, participation, and accountability. In the context of international development, the notion of good governance is commonly seen as a critical foundation for achieving positive social, environmental, and economic outcomes. Conversely, weak governance is often blamed for poor development outcomes, such as poverty and unsustainable levels of natural resource depletion. In the context of forests, a lack of transparency and accountability is often associated with problems such as illegal logging and corruption. Similarly, a lack of open and inclusive decision-making often contributes to the marginalization and impoverishment of forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples.
Taken together, since decisions about forests are shaped by a wide range of public and private actors, forest governance necessarily has to do with the process of how decisions are made about forests, as opposed to focusing exclusively on what decisions are made or the outcomes of those decisions (WRI, 2013).
Why Forest Policy Matters
The forest sector in India is currently going through never before seen change. For example, India needs coal but coal mining and subsequent usages of coal has adverse impact on climate which may risk various forest types. Therefore forests are highly sensitive to climate change, and this has been shown by observations from the past, experimental studies and simulation models.
“Clear and secure rights to forest land are a critical enabling condition for promoting resource management decisions that value social and environmental dimensions of forests alongside economic interests.” – Wold Resource Institute, 2013
Perhaps now, more than ever, forest policy matters. Central to the discourse are substantive questions on forest rights, responsibilities, regulatory structures, transparency and accountability, in other words practical questions about policy and governance.
For more discussions on Environment, Forest and Rural India, follow Chitrangada Choudhury @ https://ruralindiaonline.org/authors/chitrangada-choudhury/