Indian Forests: How to preserve them?

Jungles and forests are the backbone of a society not only because of their economical importance, as they are natural wealth, but also because of their importance in maintaining ecological equilibrium. Trees and forests help in formulating the seasons, they acts as cleanser of the air surrounding human society and help in maintaining ground water levels and water cycle too. According to the latest state of forests report of the Forest Survey of India the actual forest cover of India is 19.27% of the geographic area. Literary, India has to meet the needs of 16% of the worlds population from 1% of the world forest resources. The same forest has also to cater for the 19% of the world cattle population. The figures themselves signify the abysmal position and point out the extreme scarcity of forests and the need for proper conservation of forest wealth.

Cause of Depletion of Indian Forests

Often it is said that increasing population is the main reason for forest depletion, yet it is a false idea. The major reason for the loss of Indian forests is the government.
Despite the fact that forests are the basic natural resources for the economical activity, Indian government since from the start, keeps full control over the Indian forests without providing any private initiative and free market incentives to preserve forests and solve out the problem of scarcity.
During the 19th century, the British government confiscated most of the Indian forests to rob them for their imperial needs. After independence, Indian government took the robber’s position and stated Indian forests as public property under the conservations of government. In 1952, some well-intentioned politicians recognized the importance of forests and declared the new forest policy aiming at maintaining 1/3rd of India’s land area under forests. Yet, just like all other governmental interventions , this initiative also proved to be futile and results came against the intentions of preserving the forests. Until 1976, the forest resource was seen as a source of earning money for the state and therefore little was spent in protecting it or looking after it and then Indian forests became a playground for political briberies, corruption and mismanagement of Indian forest ministry and department. At one hand, the government has the mighty resource in its hand to extract the wealth from it without proper procedures for recognizing the prices in accordance with profit or loss, on the other hand, government applies confiscatory taxes on citizens for maintaining the forests. Result comes out to be wastage of resources, burden on citizens and further depletion of forests.

Why Government cannot preserve Indian Forests?

Government systems are simply redundant and incapable of protecting Indian forests because such system of forest conservation lacks the incentive to preserve the forests while cutting trees down definitely provides the short term profits. Corruption in the aim of government authorities to preserve the forests is obvious as no individual has any means to feel the direct responsibility to conserve them. As nobody own any property rights on forests, nobody cares for them, on the other hand, people keep using the forests to fulfil their needs. Common person uses forest wood as basic fuel and cattle grounds while the executives often uses them for commercial wood and coal and none ever think of maintaining the equilibrium between usage and production of forests. Furthermore, a person cannot use his owned land for commercial forestation because he is not free to make profits from commercial forestation. The government authorities fail in protecting and preserving the forest because of lack of labour, security techniques while negligence, bribery, and corruption remains the basic ill of all such public resource ministries and departments.

Necessity of Privatization of Forest Resources

Trees are nothing but long-term crops and forests are similar to farmlands of those long-term crops. The forests necessarily need human endeavour for their proper growth and conservation. As human endeavor is necessary for protection and growth of forests, they are not free resources rather they are economic commodities and means of production, that is, forests are wealth and hence need to be subject of private property rights. Privatizing the forests will reduce the unbridled felling of trees because the private owners will have the responsibility to safeguard their property. The private owners will safeguard their forests with utmost sincerity and honesty because the protection and preservation of their forests will be profitable to them.
A farmer safeguards his farmland and crop because his crops are the basic means of his earnings and well-being, similarly, the private owners will have proper incentives to maintain the equilibrium of forests. At one hand, they will use the forests for commercial benefits, while they will have to maintain the growth of new trees to keep up and increase their personal earnings and profits. Entrepreneurs will not only look to provide enough derivatives from their owned forests to the market, they will have to innovate ways to increase the productivity and proper care for the maintenance of the forests.
As forests are not only scarce resources, they are scarce products of human endeavour too, the demand of forest and forest derivatives will naturally increase the supply and that will necessarily mean the increase in area and density of forest land. More and more people will become interested in forestation and attaining profits and the competitive market of forestation and forest conservation will provide ample opportunities of improvement in technique of forest protection and growth and security. Entrepreneur will look forward to convert the available wastelands to profitable forests by planting commercial trees, shrubs and herbs. As market forces will recognize and establish the importance of various trees and products of forests, the various species of trees will be preserved according to the degrees of profitability in their growth and protection and that will provide a completely planned, progressive and profitable system to conserve trees and forests.

Will Partial Privatization Help?

Partial privatization is the process of government to apply private enterprises for protecting and growing forests on contract basis while the authority essentially remains in government hand. Such government interventions often prove out to be futile because of the short term of contracted property rights. If the private contractor of a forest knows that he may earn the benefits of the forest only for a limited time period (say five years) he will certainly look to decrease the amount of spending in growing and preserving the trees and forests, rather he will look forward to attain maximum profits of the existing trees and forests by exploiting them irrationally. It will be no different from the complete authority of government over forests while it will increase the possibilities of corruption and negligence in maintenance of forests.

Impact of climate change on forests in India

Conclusion: The incapability of government control over forests to conserve them is beyond any doubts, partial privatization of forests will also fail to provide better results. The only way to conserve trees and forests is to let the private initiative and free market introduce the incentives of profits in forest management and growth of trees. Privatization of forests will not only reduce the cutting of trees for their rational usage, it will provide incentives for planting further trees and new forests. Property rights on forests will increase the endeavours of individuals in preserving and growing the forest land.