How Green can be the Green India Mission?

Posted on | november 28, 2011 | 2 Comments

One of the 8 Missions under National action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is Green India Mission (GIM). Its draft Mission document states the main objective as doubling the area for afforestation in next 10 years. This mission has a budgetary proposal of Rs. 40,000 crores. As a novel initiative the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has sought comments from the public on the Mission document.

While the main objective of the Mission looks very noble the ground realities prevailing in the country indicates that the Mission’s chance of bringing commensurate benefits to the society does not appear to be great. As has been happening since independence, large tracts of thick natural forests of very high ecological value all over the country are continuing to be diverted for non-forest purposes. There are enough indications that this trend will continue in the foreseeable future, thereby threatening the few remaining patches of natural forests in the country. Even if the GIM succeeds in doubling the area for afforestation in next 10 years, the practice of diverting the existing natural forests for non-forestry applications will definitely negate the meager benefits that may accrue from such additional afforestation. Unless the trend of diverting thick natural forests all over the country to non-forest purposes is discontinued, the proposed expenditure of Rs. 40,000 Crores on GIM may become a net loss to the society.

Whereas our society considered it essential to build large number of roads, railways, dams, airports, power plants, mining infrastructure, industries, resorts, townships etc. at the expense of forest/green cover, the necessity to maintain a good forest cover is being ignored. Whereas the forest cover at the time of independence was estimated to be more than 40%, and whereas National Forest Policy recommends that 33% of the land mass should be covered by forests and trees for a healthy environment, our practice of continuing to divert forest lands for various “developmental activities” will bring this percentage much below even the present low level of 24% in the country. Despite three important Acts of our parliament namely Environmental Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Wild Life Protection Act aiming to provide adequate protection to our natural wealth, the unscientific and unrestricted growth in economic activities within the forested areas has resulted in grave threats to our forest wealth to such an extent that the govt. has now realised the need for increasing the forest cover.

While there are many illegal activities which are resulting depletion of forest cover, many activities such as permission for monoculture such as acacia and rubber plantations, forest resorts/jungle lodges, expansion of nearby human habitats into forest areas etc. are hastening the depletion of forests. Without effectively controlling such activities of forest destruction, GIM cannot have a meaningful role in protecting our environment.

There are many national and international laws/obligations which requires adequate protection of forests and bio-diversity. As per the sections 48 (a) and 51 (a) (g) of our Constitution it is the duty of the STATE and every citizen to make honest efforts to protect and improve our environment by protecting and improving rivers, lakes, forests and living beings.

It is almost impossible to notice the compliance of the letter and spirit of Indian Electricity Act 2003, and National Electricity Policy as far as salient features such as efficiency, economy, responsible use of natural resources, consumer interest protection, reliable supply of electricity etc. which would have led to the protection of our natural forests.

A recent statement by MoEF has indicated that about 35% of the coal reserve belts in the country are in ‘No Go’ areas because they are below thick natural forests. But there are also reports of massive lobbying to permit coal mining in such areas too, in order to cater to a large number of additional coal power plants. Bending the relevant rules to permit coal mining in such areas will reduce the thick forest cover of highest ecological value, which can never be compensated by GIM.

World Charter for Nature was adopted by consensus by UN General Assembly in 1982. It has provided some guiding principles for protecting biodiversity. Some key principles so enunciated are: (i) Activities which are likely to cause irreversible damage to nature should be avoided; (ii) Activities which are likely to pose significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that the expected benefits far outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed; (iii) Environmental Impact Assessment should be thorough, be given sufficient time, and be carried out in an open and transparent fashion.

The international community under UNFCC has considered ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)’ as critical to contain the Global Warming.

Amongst the so called developmental activities having huge impact on our forest cover and the bio-diversity is the power sector. Large size conventional power projects such as coal based, OR dam based OR nuclear based power plants need large tracts of forest area to set up coal/nuclear mines, power plants, reservoirs, transmission lines, staff colonies etc. Pollutants, emissions and wastes from the power plants also have huge deleterious impacts on quality and size of the total forest area in the country.

In this context it is deplorable that the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) as developed by the Planning Commission has not even discussed the impact of such large increase in total installed power capacity on the forest cover and bio-diversity. IEP has projected an increase of about 500% in the total installed power capacity in the country by 2031-32 comprising increase of coal power capacity from 80,000 MW to 400,000 MW; hydel capacity from about 36,000 MW to 150,000 MW; and nuclear power capacity from about 4,500 MW to 65,000 MW. While the huge impact on our natural resources because of the increase in installed power capacity from a level of about 1,500 MW in 1948 to about 160,000 in 2010 is clearly visible, further increase by 5 times in next 20 years can devastate the entire nature.

One can imagine the massive impact of such a huge increase in power capacity on general flora, fauna and environment. The GHG emissions will increase many folds and the associated pollutants will impact quality of air, water and food crops. These are in addition to massive impacts of social issues such as displacement, quality of living and health.

A large number of dam based hydel power projects, which are being planned in many parts of the country including almost all the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan states, will also lead to massive destruction of forests, unacceptable levels of interference in the natural flow of rivers, and will also threaten critical bio-diversity

It is pertinent to note here that the perceived need to increase the power generating capacity in the country has arisen because of the huge inefficiency in making use of the existing power infrastructure. As long as our society fails to undertake necessary steps to make the power sector highly efficient and accountable, the missions such as GIM to increase the green cover and to contain the GHG emission can have only very meager success. This misconception of the need for large additional power capacity has to be corrected urgently by measures such as objectively identifying the legitimate demand for electricity, highest possible levels of energy usage, demand side management, and widespread use of new & renewable energy sources.

The thinking process of many agencies of the govt. and many regulatory institutions, which consider the forests as expendable to achieve economic development, have to undertake a serious introspection of the scenario in which environmental clearance for hydel projects such as Gundia hydel project in Karnataka and Athirapally hydel project in Kerala within thick forests of Western Ghats are being considered.

In order to protect our forests, green cover and general environment a different paradigm of ‘development’ is needed, and the civil society has to take active participation in decision making processes. If the estimated budgetary provision of Rs. 40,000 Crores on GIM is to be well spent, the ministry of environment and forests will has to take effective steps in conjunction with other concerned ministries and state governments to minimise the destruction of the existing natural forests.

AUTHOR: Shankar Sharma
E-MAIL: shankar.sharma2005 [at]


2 Responses to “How Green can be the Green India Mission?”

  1. Dr Sas. Biswas
    november 29th, 2011 @ 09:19

    GIM must integrate the coastal areas, ecosensitive zones, climate change vulnerable areas in different bioclimatic zones of the country. Species selection should be seen from the point of view of climate change adaptation, goods and services of a forest ecosystem. Degraded habitats nearer to the communities’ land once with rich repository should be given priority. Periurban aspects should also be considered.

  2. Ashish
    mei 7th, 2012 @ 16:44

    Sir meri ngo hai mai ap ke sath kam karna chahate hai

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