Opinion by: DD SHARMA
MAN has been dependent on forests since time immemorial. With the passage of time, a lot of changes have taken place in the extent of forest usage, methods of forest harvesting, and the attitude of people towards forests. Burgeoning population, industrial revolution and rampant construction activity have resulted in excessive exploitation of forest resources. Even today, a large chunk of population around the world is largely dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. But unscientific and relentless exploitation has put the very existence of forests under threat.
It can be said that a self-regulatory mechanism of forest conservation was in place in most parts of India since ancient times. Subsequently the British formulated various rules and laws to conserve forests in India. However, the new system somehow disturbed the old system which led to conflict in interests among various stakeholders. Due to lack of awareness about benefits of the new system, people caused extensive damage to the forest wealth that they now perceived as government property.
Himachal Pradesh houses mixed environmental conditions with diverse vegetation and has a rich biodiversity that needs to be conserved on a priority. But the dependence of local people on these resources is also very high. Hence, the need of the hour is to strike a balance between the harvesting of forests and their conservation for future needs.
A number of schemes and programmes are being implemented by the state forest department to increase forest cover and conserve the existing forest areas. But, at the same time, the forest department of the state has failed to involve the forest dependent communities in planning interventions, finding the extent of forest usage and knowing their needs. As a result, all such schemes/programmes did not lead to desired results and this process gradually alienated these communities.
Thus, the relationship between these forest-based communities and the state forest department has never flourished. People have long been accusing the forest department of not allowing them to harvest forests to meet their bonafide needs. They still feel that forests are the property of the state government and the role of the forest department is to distribute timber. People also believe that other produce from the forest areas is strictly governed by the rights and concessions that have been mentioned in various forest settlement reports, and in lieu to that they do not have any duties towards the conservation of forest resources. As the local people were not taken into confidence in planning of various forest activities in the past and their needs were not accounted for, people lost interest in the management of forest areas; hence the efforts of the forest department met with little success.
Keeping in view these issues, it is felt that the forest department should work more closely with the communities and should seek active participation in their conservation efforts. The realisation that if people are well off, their dependence on forests will automatically decline, thereby reducing the pressure on forests.