The National Green India Mission, as one of the eight Missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), recognizes that climate change phenomena will seriously affect and alter the distribution, type and quality of natural biological resources of the country and the associated livelihoods of the people.
GIM puts “greening” in the context of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Greening is meant to enhance ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and storage (in forests and other ecosystems), hydrological services and biodiversity; as well as other provisioning services such as fuel, fodder, small timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs).
The Mission aims at responding to climate change by a combination of adaptation and mitigation measures, which would help:
- enhancing carbon sinks in sustainably managed forests and other ecosystems;
- adaptation of vulnerable species/ecosystems to the changing climate; and
- adaptation of forest-dependant communities.
Significance of forests in relation to climate change
The Green India Mission recognizes the influences and potential that the forests and other natural ecosystems have on climate adaptation/mitigation, and food, water, environmental and livelihood security of tribal and forest dwellers specifically, and the nation at large, in the context of climate change.
The Mission is therefore in a unique position to significantly contribute to sustainability in following areas:
- Ameliorating climate: Over the past decades, national policies of conservation and sustainable management have transformed the country’s forests into a net sink of CO2 . From 1995 to 2005, carbon stocks stored in our forests are estimated to have increased from 6245 million tonnes to 6622 million tonnes thereby registering an annual increment of 37.68 million tons of carbon or 138.15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
- Food security: Forests are essential for maintaining favourable and stable conditions needed for sustained agricultural productivity. In Nayagarh, Orissa, maintaining agricultural productivity is one of the key reasons for forest protection by the community. According to a study by Nadkarni , as much as 50% of the productivity of paddy fields in the Western Ghats is actually attributed to leaf litter collected from the forests. Organic matter is essential to maintain the fertility, structure and water-holding capacity of soils in the high rainfall region. Forests provide food directly in the following categories: fruits, flowers, leaves, stems, seeds, roots, tubers, mushrooms, etc.
- Water security: Forests are vital for maintaining the hydrological cycle and regulating water flows and sub-soil water regimes, recharging the aquifers and maintaining the flow of water in rivers and rivulets. However, the relationship between forests and water flows, especially the low base flows, is not always as straight forward as often believed. Forest ecosystems are the source of a large number of rivers and rivulets in the country. The forested watersheds have better availability as well as quality of water than watersheds under alternative land uses. For example, the Shimla catchment forest was established in the early 20th century exclusively for securing the catchment and to protect springs and streams that provided drinking water supply for Shimla town, the summer capital of British India. It comprises more than 1000 ha of very dense forest.
- Livelihood security of local communities: Forests provide a range of provisioning services, particularly fuel wood, fodder, small timber, NTFP and medicinal plants, and artisan raw material like canes and bamboo, that are crucial to livelihood security of forest-dependant communities. Nearly 27% of the total population of India, comprising 275 million rural people, depends on forests for their livelihoods. This number includes 89 million tribal people, who constitute the poorest and most marginalized section of the country. NTFP sector with an annual growth rate between 5-15% also contributes to 75% of the forest sector export income.
Loopholes in the Mission
- No exclusive financing and institutional framework: No separate financing and institutional mechanisms have been proposed for implementing the Mission activities. In certain areas, it proposes coordinating with exclusive forest management agencies, but they are existing bodies consisting of SHGs and District Planning Offices (DPOs) and other decentralized governing agencies.
- Need for greater coordinated efforts: Apart from Centre and State governments managing harmonized efforts, there is a need for utmost coordination between SFDAs, village level governing bodies, JFMCs, DPOs and local communities. The Mission largely depends on convergence between its activities and ongoing flagship programmes and CSS. There is no system in place to ensure coordination between these departments except for recent Convergence Guidelines released by the MoEF&CC which seeks to facilitate convergence between MNREGS and GIM
- Inadequate Compliance and Enforcement mechanisms: As in the case of a few other Missions, the GIM does not include any legal or regulatory framework through which strict adherence to its guidelines or design can be ensured. Currently, it is dependent on existing agencies like MNREGS, DAC and CAMPA for their compliance mechanisms.
- Specialized capacity building: The thrust on specific skill and capacity building across State and village level bodies needs to be further reinforced since the Mission heavily depends on decentralized governance. Harmonized efforts between village bodies with specific climate change expertise and local communities with traditional knowledge may together prove beneficial to enhance the effectiveness of Mission implementation.
- Need for coordinated efforts: Although coordinating agencies and programmes like CAMPA, DAC and MNREGS have their own mechanism and guidelines in place, synergy between the Mission and such programmes cannot be overlooked. Convergence guidelines recently issued need to be applied with utmost efficiency and in a transparent manner.
- Climate Orientation: Although the traditional knowledge and capacity of local governing bodies in implementing existing schemes cannot be undermined, renewed orientation towards forest management with the objective of mitigating and adapting to climate change could make the Mission more impactful.
- System of incentivizing governance and ownership: A robust system of incentivizing decentralized governance could further increase the efficacy of the Mission implementation. Although the local communities and governing bodies are forthcoming in taking up such activities they are overburdened with responsibilities. Hence the uptake of this additional layer of Mission activities could be further enhanced through appropriate incentives. Mechanisms like the Payment for Eco-system Services (PES) could be explored for their relevance in certain areas.
- Strengthening decentralized governance through Gram Sabha and its committees/ groups: Local institutions have a significant bearing on forest conservation and its sustainable use, more so at a time when market forces are putting tremendous pressure on natural resources. The institutions at the local level to deal with forests include: Joint Forest Management Committeesxiii (JFMC), Community Forest Management groups (a large number in Orissa), Van Panchayats (Uttarakhand), traditional village level institutions/ Village Councils (schedule VI area), Biodiversity Management Committees, Forest Committees set up under rule 4 (e) of FRA etc., Self Help Groups /Common Interest Groups have also been set up at the village level to promote forest-based livelihood activities.
Strengthened Gram Sabhasxiv hold the key to decentralized governance of forests and natural resources. Informed Gram Sabhas would mean better coordination and linkages across different institutions at the local level, and improved accountability of such institutions. The Mission should therefore help strengthen Gram Sabhas as the overarching institutions. Village-level institution dealing with protection and management of forests will need to be set up by the Gram Sabha. This would not only help in strengthening the GS, but would also help in necessary convergence of resources and integrated planning at the village level. Leadership provided by the committees of the GS and the UGs/SHGs would contribute to strengthening of Gram Sabha.
- Building a cadre of Community Foresters: The Mission is meant to nearly double the ongoing efforts of greening the country. This will necessitate developing extra hands from within the community, namely youths from the community who on one hand would provide service to the community, and on the other hand would link to a large number of other service providers, including the Forest Department and other agencies. Given the fast changing rural scenario with an increasing number of educated unemployed/ underemployed youth, the Mission will support development of youth cadres as Community Foresters to lead the charge at the local level. Support of the Forest Department, research institutions, universities/colleges from local area and NGOs would help develop this cadre of Community Foresters as self-employed change agents. The Mission has the potential to develop about one lakh skilled local community youths who would provide support in community-based forest conservation, community livelihood enhancement and change monitoring etc., these youth will also act as a bridge between the community and the service providers like the Forest Department.
It is important that forests not be seen merely as providing ecosystem services alone but as an ecosystem which comprises of the people living in and around the forests including their historical relationship with the forests, the flora and fauna. By turning ecosystems into tourism products, they are also made vulnerable to the market (demand and supply). This is done without taking into consideration the communities living in these areas who have for centuries been the custodians of the resources and who have a symbiotic relationship with them. Further, the life-cycle of the ecosystems themselves is not considered while planning for tourism development in these fragile spaces.