Urban Forests Scheme

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

When the whole world is grappling through developing measures to cope up with COVID-19 pandemic, India as a country has also announced a slew of initiatives to contain its spread with imposition of nationwide lockdown.

Forests form a significant sphere of our life cycle as ultimate providers of our life-gas oxygen. On the special occasion of World Environment Day on 5th June 2020, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change introduced Urban Forests Scheme in Pune, Maharashtra with plantation of about 4000 saplings around 70 acre land. With an aim to increase green cover, it has been lunched with 200 corporations and cities in India. This paper intends to provide deep insights regarding its salient features, objectives, fund allocation structure etc. and will analyze its prospective impact upon India’s decimating forest cover.

Salient features

Through this “Nagar Van” programme, the government plans to grow 200 urban forests across the country in the next five years with participation of public and collaborating with Forest Department, NGOs, municipal corporations, citizens etc. This initiative thrives to increase the green forest cover in India through collective efforts. This year’s theme for World Environment Day “Biodiversity” has also been expanded to introduce this policy to revive the spirit of village forests in cities. This scheme was also introduced in 2016 but it couldn’t be implemented on a large scale.

These forests will be developed on any vacant land inside the city or provided by urban local bodies. Once established, the state government will be responsible for its maintenance and an entry fee may also be charged from visitors to cover maintenance costs. It will be developed with Public Private Partnership (PPP) approach where fencing will be done by the government whereas planting, walkways, public convenience infrastructure will be developed by private corporations as a part of their corporate social responsibility. It has been introduced basing upon the idea of Warje Urban forests in Pune, Maharashtra which provides an ideal success story of rejuvenating barren lands into useful forest areas.

Based on budgetary allocation, this scheme is shared between centre and state in ration of 80:20. The Ministry aims to provide one time grant to the concerned state government or local authority with a maximum cap of 2 crore. It will be made in two installments – first one after the approval of project and remaining after 3/4th use of the first one. The government has proposed to fund it through Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). This fund had been introduced to act as National Advisory Council chaired by the Union Environment Minister for rejuvenation and regeneration of forest areas in various parts of the country.

Objectives and purposes

India has been one of the world’s mega diversity countries in terms of plant species richness and provides about 8% of world’s biodiversity. According to India State of the Forests Report 2019, India’s forest cover has been increased by 0.6% in last two years and this prospective move will further help in developing green cover across the whole country. The rising threats of large scale development projects, mounting population, poaching of wildlife, and depleting natural resources has raised alarm for timely strict actions. Apart from beautification of urban areas, these forests as green lungs will help in ecological rejuvenation of cities and will result into eliminating pollution levels, cleaner air and reduced noise effects.

Trees help in moderating temperatures where roads and concrete on buildings make these highly populated areas are hotter compared to rural surroundings. This phenomenon, also known as heat island effect will replete with growth and development of urban forests in various cities. When the whole world is struggling to cope up with climate change, this move will make urban cities climate resilient and will provide immense health benefits to citizens. It will fulfill the idea of in situ biodiversity conversation with creation of awareness for conversation of rich flora and fauna of the region. According to Food and Agriculture Organization, the urban forests help in reducing ozone, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and remove large quantities of CO2 from the environment. But good intentions do not bring always good outcomes as this policy also suffers from various limitations.

Policy loopholes

This policy will certainly help in decreasing environmental degradation and will help in combating with Climate Change but like every sword is two edged, this move also suffer from various limitations. The Government has planned to develop 200 urban forests on vacant areas but open spaces in urban cities are highly contested as many of the areas are occupied by the slum dwellers. If it leads to their eviction from their homes, the government fails to provide reasonable explanation for their reallocation.

As there is always discrepancies associated with official land records and actual land use, the slum areas may be portrayed as vacant areas or forest land. According to Land Conflict Watch Database, more than 2/3rd of nearly 800 land conflicts in India relates to common land areas. India also lacks the supply for indigenous saplings for creating 200 urban forests in various Indian cities. Also, the government should focus on developing native species of trees which are best suited depending upon local conditions rather than no-native trees hurting the ecological system.

Conclusion

This well intentioned move is praiseworthy and would help in reviving the decimated environment conditions but taking its loopholes into account, the government needs to ensure stricter implementation of the prescribed guidelines. If the project only focuses on plantation without any thorough research about native species of different regions, it will defeat the purpose of it. It is the need of the hour that people conserve their flora and fauna to ensure optimal utilization of limited natural resources. 

Author: Prince Chandak from National Law School of India University, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

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