Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 : Politics of Performance : Notes 01 

Conserving forests, involving people..
A Note on few unique forest conservation efforts in Gujarat being released on the occasion on World Forestry Day. March 21st 2014 

In a democratic polity, politics ideally has to be about ideas. Electoral competition essentially needs to be around thoughts and concepts and their relationship with basic human values as well as practicality.  Unfortunately, our electoral campaigns have always focused more on personalities than principles. In this atmosphere, I thought I could share some  ideas that have been successfully implemented in Gujarat  with regards to forest and forest conservation on the occasion of World Forest Day.

Fast depleting forest cover is a major challenge before the Humanity today, goes without saying. This happens because typically, the ownership and hence responsibility of conservation always remains with the government. Understandably then, not only to people at large but also to those who dwell in the forests, forest conservation becomes an alien process. This brings in a crisis of ownership.  Whether it is the question of receding levels of ground water table or shrinking forest cover, unless people are made to realize that not the government but they themselves are the real stakeholders in conservation of natural resources, saving the task of Mother Nature will remain just another government programme. Hence, very rightly Gujarat govt insisted that greater peoples participation always has to be at the centre of Mission Conservation.

Two examples are quite revealing! The first one is about an experiment that was undertaken in Gujarat. The forest department embarked on a unique initiative named as Canopy Plantation Programme. Conceptualised in 2009, the programme aims at promoting bio diversity, ensuring climate proofing, promoting disease resistance in plant species and restoring forest cover. However, at the core of this programme is the forest dweller. This programme has proved to be offering a socio economic umbrella over the forest dependent tribals who can then utilise the produce from the plantations for income generation. The canopy thus acts as a source of economic security for the dependent population. This programme has been designed in such a way that it provides multiplier benefits especially to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) tribal population in the State.

Now, forward market linkages are being established for the products too. Marketing of the products is done through existing local channels with the Forest Department giving leverage to the local people to sell their products at competitive prices. Off late efforts are afoot to brand these forest products with the help of specialists.

The second example is that of the Vanbandhu Yojana and other initiatives. When one thinks of forests, the thought of forest dweller communities, especially the tribals has to be at the top of your mind. To further the government-forest dwellers partnership, what is essential is giving land rights to tribal people. Now, The 1.10 lakh tribals from Gujarat have become owners of over 10.25 lakh acres of forest land. The land ownership documents have been given to tribals as part of the state government's commitment to implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Under the Rs.15, 000-crore Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojna for the welfare of the tribal, the State Government has embarked upon empowerment oriented schemes and programmes. Opening Coaching Centres for MBBS entrance tests in every tribal taluka, opening Engineering Colleges and Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), Science Stream Schools, Nursing and Physiotherapy Colleges and Agro-Polytechnics in different tribal talukas feature in our Vanbandhu Yojana. So far, Vanbandhu Yojna has achieved a huge success in uplifting economical growth of the tribals through farming and animal-husbandry. Tribals are also being encouraged for opting for organic farming

Whether Vanbandhu Yojana or the ambitious bio-diversity programme the core thinking is the same. Central to all these programmes is the realization of the intense interdependence between livelihood security and ecological security. Gujarat government is aware that people living in bio-diverse areas have acquired rich indigenous ecological knowledge through generations of interaction with local ecosystems, which they have shaped, and which, in turn have shaped their cultures, lifestyles and livelihoods.

Efforts to partner with the people have two other aspects too. Firstly, this process requires establishing a linkage between popular folk-culture and conservation needs. Secondly, it also requires bringing in innovative ideas showcasing some out of the box thinking. In  their efforts to make development issues a part of the popular ethos, looks like they have embarked upon the idea of Cultural Forests, one step ahead of social forestry.

The objective of establishing Sanskritik Vans or cultural forests is to increase active participation of the people and create awareness among them. Such plantations are planned according to various Indian traditions like Navgraha Van, Nakashatra Van, Rashi Van, Panchvati, Trithankar, Saptarshi, Shriparni, Arogya Van etc., which have become popular amongst people of Gujarat.

Remarkably, Gujarat has succeeded in conservation of mangroves. Gujarat, which had 427 sq km of mangrove forest cover in 1987, increased it phenomenally to 1045 sq km by 2009.  Today, it has increased further. 

Another important feature is that Gujarat perhaps is among the few States where you can see Women Forest Guards, protecting the wild life resolutely. While appointing women as guards, factors like the natural tendency of women to foster togetherness and their indomitable convincing power were taken into consideration. We can reasonably conclude that women guards have facilitated the process of emotionally connecting the village and other communities with the wildlife. Wildlife conservation is a combined effort of checking poaching activities as well as creating a favorable atmosphere where wildlife and humans can live symbiotically.  The women forest guards have successfully taken care of both these aspects.

Take for example, Manisha Vaghela, a woman guard who single handedly caught a gang of poachers in the year 2011. Like Manisha, several other women forest guards are also very pro-actively discharging their duties. As a result the population of Gir lions has increased.

Democratic governance is all about enabling people to shape their own destiny.  Narendrabhai has always believed citizens to be instrumental in ushering positive change in their own lives. The remarkable aspect of Gujarat's Forest and Environment protection initiatives has been that they usually addresses both, the ecological as well as economic concerns of society. As Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has said, we must begin to create a model for a 21st century economy that rejects the myth that there must be a zero-sum trade-off between growth and the environment, meaning growth and environmental protection have to go hand in hand. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Vinay Ji,
    By my experience in a professional assignment related to afforestation, I find a kind of lackadaisical approach from the State Governments or to be precise, the Bureaucrats manning the related departments. There is a Supreme Court appointed and monitored ad-hoc body that is mandated to receive annual plan of operations from teh States, which is most cases does come by easily. All these details may be found in public domain too, at the Environment Ministry's website.
    Non-Tribal have an utmost national duty to work towards inclusion of these forest residents, aka, Tribal.