The National Democratic Alliance government has constituted a core drafting committee to review the National Forest Policy enacted in 1988.
While the process for review of the forest policy had begun during the UPA's tenure, the NDA government has now opened the process of seeking comments from the public.
The 1988 policy put in place the much-debated target of achieving 33 per cent forest cover in the country. While the country, by official surveys over the past few years, added more forests than denuded or cut, worries have arisen about natural forests being supplanted by mixed or monoculture plantations. Experts outside the government have also occasionally challenged the surveys for their methods.
The forest policy has also been in the need for revision with a slew of Supreme Court orders, primarily from its ‘forest bench’, substantially altering the laws and regulations that control forestry and forestlands in India. Even the definition of what constitutes ‘forestland’ was first laid down by the apex court, which held that forest laws would apply even to lands under control of different departments or individuals if a healthy stock of trees grew on it.
The forest policy also pre-dates the Forest Rights Act, which was enacted in 2006, handing back rights to traditional forest-dwellers over their lands that were nationalised under various laws. The government has preferred to run the forests and forest-dependent economy through its own joint forest management committees, which continue to provide control to the forest bureaucracy over the lands.
The environment ministry has invited comments of various stakeholders, including state forest departments and forestry institutions, to bring changes to the policy.
The last time the government reviewed the forestry sector was when it set up the National Forest Commission, which submitted its report in 2006. The commission had recommended against the need for a change in the policy framework.