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Turning The Page In Forest Governance: Science And Bureaucracy

December 5, 2011: A few months ago, three non-official members of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) wrote a letter to the minister of state for environment and forests. The letter spoke of the subversive actions of high-level forest department (FD) officials, who in blatant violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA) withheld information and wilfully confused facts pertinent to several projects needing forest clearances (Sethi 2011).


Public knowledge of the letter turned the spotlight of discomfort squarely on the state of governance in the forest department. They responded true to form by publicly slandering the academic credentials of the nonofficial members (Bahuguna 2011). Their offered solution is to weed out “non-professionals” (i e, independent scientists and academics), whom they consider an imposition on bureaucratic authority.


Fallacies of Governance


The real issue is inaccuracy of information and the lack of accountability of the forest department’s administrative decisions. The department’s public response to the nonofficial members’ letter was that the nonofficials had “narrow” expertise, and the fields of wildlife ecology, environmental history, conservation policy, and sociology were irrelevant in evaluating forest clearances. This in spite of the Supreme Court ruling (2007) that mandates such expertise during forest clearances. Such knee-jerk reactions smack of anachronisms of a bygone era of top-down management while, in spite of rigid state control, vast areas of forests have been cleared in the last few decades even within reserve forests and protected areas. The Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) report on forest clearances documents these gargantuan conversions of forestland for industry, coal, and mineral mining (CSE 2011) and an article in this journal used the CSE data to highlight the ills that plague forest clearance (Correspondent 2011). Notwithstanding FCA (1980), the forest officials continue to act capriciously and accord arbitrary clearances. Often, the basis of clearances has not been made public. Importantly, the scientific grounds for clearance decisions are wanting. Download the complete report in PDF format here.


Source: Meghna Krishnadas, Umesh Srinivasan, Nandini Velho, Sachin Sridhara.


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