Down To Earth (August 16-31 2023)
Conservation Vs Development
Context: Since independence of India, the country has remained divided on the practice of environmentalism, as a development or a conservation.
● The term ‘environmentalism’ is considered as an ideology and philosophy of social movement which concerns environmental protection and environmental health improvement, particularly the measures which integrate the effect on animals, plants, humans and abiotic factors due to environmental changes.
● The environmental movement has played a crucial role in shaping policies and the practice of development in India. It has three distinct tracks:
1. It has played a role in defining developmental strategy for natural resource management.
2. It has questioned developmental projects and from this contestation a consensus has emerged in terms of action.
3. The Environmental movement has pushed and prodded changes in policies when it comes to pollution and human health.
● It is a movement that arose in response to global environmental crises, encompasses theories about the nature and causes of environmental problems, moral views about our relation to nature, and attempts to define and bring about an environmentally sound society.
● It advocates the preservation, restoration and improvement of the natural environment and critical earth system elements or processes such as the climate, control pollution or protect biodiversity.
● It is concerned about creating awareness regarding the importance of the environment to humans and other organisms.
● The main moral debate is between those who value nature for the sake of human well-being and those who take an ecocentric view—who think that things in nature have inherent worth.
● The Environmental movement in India has remained divided on the practice of environmentalism as development and as conservation, and this schism was visible even at the birth of the movement in the 1970s.
● The difference in objectives, for example Project Tiger and Chipko movement, has played out in our policies that vacillate between extraction and conservation of natural resources, and forgot to realise the rights of local communities.
The Project Tiger:
● It was launched by India in 1973 — a programme to identify land for sanctuaries for the flagship species based on the western concept of conservation.
● It reached its low point in 2004 when Sariska National Park in Rajasthan lost all its tigers to poachers.
● The Tiger Task Force then set up the agenda for reform, which included strengthening protection of the reserves and relocation of villages from the core areas. Tiger numbers in the wild have stabilised since.
§ The inclusion of local communities is not part of this conservation effort in the Project Tiger, and thus they do not benefitted.
● It was launched by the women in the high Himalayas in 1973, where they resisted the axe of woodcutters.
● Their movement was not about conservation; they needed the trees for survival and so wanted the right to cut them and grow them.
● This movement inspired the country for forest conservation and afforestation.
● The Forest Conservation Act was enacted in 1980, which decreed that forest land could not be diverted without the permission of the Centre.
§ It helped to stem the tide of forest diversion to some extent but has led to alienation of communities from the forests they protected.
§ The Act is silent on how forests will be grown and then cut and then grown again so that India can move towards a wood-based economy and in ways that benefit local people.
Other incidents in India related to environmentalism:
● The project to build a dam on the river Narmada, in the 1980s, became a flashpoint for “destructive” development, because of the loss of forests and rehabilitation of displaced villages.
● The decision to stop the Silent Valley hydroelectric project after 1983 in sub-tropical forests of Kerala to protect the region's rich biodiversity.
What are the solutions?
● Balancing act: There is a need to find balance between environment and development in policy and then, most importantly, in practice.
● Reinventing the water management paradigm: It brought to the fore the idea of decentralised and community-based water conservation, which then led to the change in policy towards regeneration of water bodies to improve livelihoods and to capture rain where it falls.
● Improvement in legislation: Amendments to key laws like Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Environmental Protection Act, 1986, Public Liability Insurance Act 1991, and Biological Diversity Act, 2002 etc is needed to fulfil the aspirations of people of India.
● Environmentalism is about deepening democracy, and the most important gain of India’s environmental movement is the voice it has given to its citizens, thus, strengthening democracy.
Context: The amendment to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed by the Parliament of India that opens up large swathes of forestland for different non-forest activities.
● The experts warn the recent amendment to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 opens the floodgates for ecological disasters.
● Since its inception, the Act of 1980, brought in to regulate the use of forestland for non-forest activities, has undergone eight amendments.
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980:
● Following Independence, vast swathes of forest land were designated as reserved and protected forests and brought under state forest departments.
● However, many forested areas were left out — and areas without any standing forests were included in ‘forest’ lands.
● The anomalies were supposed to be sorted out through extensive ground surveys — but the process remained incomplete.
About the amendments:
● It completely overhauls the Act for the first time by not just changing its name but also opening up large swathes of forestland for different non-forest activities.
● It narrows the definition of forests in the country.
● On the other hand, the exemptions will bring development to tribals and forest-dwelling communities.
How the amended law dilutes Forest Conservation Act, 1980:
● The name has been changed to the Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, which translates to the Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act.
● A preamble has been added which talks about the need for forests to achieve the country’s carbon neutral status by 2070.
● The Act is applicable only to land that has been recorded by the government as forests as on or after October 25, 1980.
● Forest clearances are no longer required for security-related projects in forests within 100 km of international borders, which leaves the majority of the biodiversity-rich Northeast vulnerable.
● In non-border areas, land up to 10 ha (5 ha in areas affected by left-wing extremism) can be used for defence-related projects, and public utility projects.
● The Act has also exempted non-forest activities such as agro-forestry plantations, zoos, safari parks and ecotourism from taking environmental clearances.
Highlights of the keys issues/concerns related to the amendments:
Forest are open for exploitation:
● Procedurally, the Bill should have been referred to the Parliamentary (Standing) Committee on Science, Technology, Environment and Forests, instead of being referred to a Select Committee, all the members of which, except one, belong to the ruling party, making the examination partisan and unsatisfactory.
Changing the name:
● People have questioned the decision to change the name of the Act to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, which translates to Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act, excluding non-Hindi speaking citizens of the country.
● People have raised questions over the inclusion of the word samvardhan or augmentation as it goes against the spirit of conservation, which has been central to the Act.
Limiting the scope of Act:
● Prior to the amendment, the Act was applicable to all land covered under the dictionary meaning of forests, as ordered by the Supreme Court in the Godavarman Thirumulpad v Union of India case in 1996.
§ The dictionary definition meant the Act was applicable to areas that are recorded as green cover in government books but are not explicitly called forests. These include sacred groves and many community forests.
● According to the amendment, only land recorded by the government as forests on or after October 25, 1980, will be required to abide by the Forest Conservation Act.
● The Act will not apply to lands that have been changed from forest use to use for non-forest purposes on or before December 12, 1996 issued by any authority authorised by a State Government or an Union territory Administration on that behalf.
§ States have always been reluctant to declare a deemed forest, which consists of forest-like areas or traditionally protected lands, as forests.
● The amendments are contrary to the National Forest Policy, 1988, the policy framework for forest management, and is also inconsistent with the original mandate of the Forest Conservation Act.
Visible dilutions of forests: How the amendment leaves many biodiversity hotspots vulnerable?
● Besides restricting the definition of forest, the amendment also allows development for different activities in existing forests.
§ For instance, forest clearances are no longer required for security-related infrastructure projects that lie within 100 km of international borders.
§ The Northeast, one of the most biodiversity rich areas of the country, has already lost 3,199 sq km of forest areas between 2009 and 2019, and the Act will make the region vulnerable to further loss of forest cover.
● These areas can be used for “construction of strategic linear projects of national importance and concerning national security”.
● In non-border areas, forestland up to 10 hectares (ha) can be used by the Centre for defence-related projects and public utility projects.
● The Act has exempted non-forest activities such as agroforestry plantations, zoos, safari parks and ecotourism from environmental clearances.
§ This is in clear violation of a Supreme Court order that stayed all construction within core areas of national parks.
§ The exemptions under the Act are given on the condition that the diverted forestland will be compensated for with the planting of trees elsewhere in the country. But tree planting cannot be a substitute for forests.
Dilemma associated: Indigenous communities and Forests
● The new Act will most likely erode the rights guaranteed to indigenous and forest-dwelling communities over forests.
● If the definition is adopted from the Forest Rights Act, then the rights of the people will be secured. If the new definition is adopted, then their existence is threatened.
● Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 — or the Forest Rights Act, 2006 — the consent of gram sabhas is essential for getting environmental clearance for any project. If such land is not recognised in government records as forestland, then developmental projects might not even need a clearance anymore.
● The Act has raised concerns about the ownership of local forestland where special provisions such as the Sixth Schedule and Article 371 help to protect community land ownership and cultural practices.
● In Nagaland, for example, communities are perplexed as to whether Article 371 A of the Indian Constitution, which protects their customary practices and land ownership patterns, will continue to provide them with protection from forest diversion under the new Act.
● The amendment exempted forest-like regions would see more investment in plantations and other tree cover that will improve carbon sink capabilities.
● However, in a pursuit of fulfilling a commitment to create carbon sinks, the Act hinders India’s commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity goals of in-situ conservation, of new land, indigenous rights, equitable sharing of benefits and protecting biodiversity.
● Hence, a proper balance needs to be found to achieve sustainable development before implementing the Act.
Context: A collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) may put other climate systems at risk and disrupt circulation of oceanic water throughout the planet.
● Recent studies show that the AMOC could collapse between 2025 and 2095 due to the impact of anthropogenic emissions.
● If the above prediction deems true, AMOC may be the first of the 16 climate tipping elements to be breached.
Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC):
● It is a system of ocean currents that circulates water within the Atlantic Ocean, bringing warm water north and cold water south and is part of a complex system of global ocean currents.
● The global conveyor belt circulates cool subsurface water and warm surface water throughout the world. It plays a crucial role in moderating the climate of Europe and North America and influences temperatures near the Equator.
● The entire circulation cycle of the AMOC, and the global conveyor belt, is quite slow. It takes an estimated 1,000 years for a parcel of water to complete its journey along the belt.
● Even though the whole process is slow on its own, there is some evidence that the AMOC is slowing down further.
Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system:
● These are the critical threshold for a system that influences the climate and ecology of the planet, indicating the point beyond which that system begins to undergo a large-scale irreversible shift.
● Tipping elements include long-term loss of major ice sheets on Greenland and in Antarctica, large-scale ecosystem shifts for the Amazon rainforest and northern evergreen forests, species loss for coral reefs, shrinking Arctic sea-ice, and potential weakening of the AMOC etc.
§ The collapse of AMOC could have a cascading impact on the stability of other tipping elements and climate systems of the earth.
● Collapse of the AMOC will impact other tipping elements and climate systems globally.
● Example: Tipping element
§ The Amazon rainforest: AMOC collapse means more heat in tropics; Amazon could either stabilise or turn dry.
§ Sahel/West African monsoon: Impact on wind flow, ITCZ by AMOC collapse may hurt establishment of monsoon.
§ West Antarctic ice sheet: Heat would not get transferred northwards by AMOC, leading to rapid melting of the ice sheet.