March 30, 2011
India’s Western Ghats forest is one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. It is the home to thousands of flowering species and hundreds of animals and birds. In addition to preserving such ecosystems, the Green India Mission will also attempt to create new ones.
In the wild, there are few beasts as magnificent as the tiger and it would be a terrible ecological disaster if the animal becomes extinct. So conservationists and animal lovers were very excited when a recent survey found that the wild tiger population has increased by 20% in India, which is home for more than half of the world’s remaining tigers. But the absolute numbers are still dangerously low. India’s tiger population has halved over the last decade and just over 1,700 are left, even after the recent additions. Besides poaching, a major reason for this steep fall in tiger numbers is the disastrous decline in tiger habitats. In fact, of the nearly 100 million acres of land classified as forests in India, around 70 million acres have lost so much tree cover that they can hardly be classified as forests. This decline in forest cover is threatening not just tigers, but hundreds of other endangered wild species in the country.
For long, India has been a major emerging economy that typically has had less area covered by forests compared to some of its emerging market peers. Currently, India’s forests, account for a paltry 12% of the country’s total land mass. China by contrast, a bigger emerging economy, has forests covering over 22% of its land. In fact, the absolute area under forests in China rose by over 110 million acres in the last three decades alone. Compared to China, India has made very small strides in improving forests in the past two decades, and as mentioned earlier, much of those areas currently classified as forests are sparse in healthy vegetation and trees.
But things are about to change. India is now shaking off its lethargic attitude towards its forests, and is beginning to understand the need to preserve its bio-diversity. And thanks to an extensive tree-planting program that aims to double the forest area in the country, India will soon be greener.
In late February 2011, the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, a committee formed under the guidance of India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, approved the Green India Mission (GIM).
Green India Mission (GIM), a large scale tree-planting program, aims
to add 25 million acres of forest in India at the cost of over $9.8 billion
The GIM, originally envisioned by the India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests under the guidance of Mr. Jairam Ramesh, is a Rs 46,000-crore ($9.8 billion) project that aims to plant trees across nearly 25 million acres and develop them into forests. The project differs from India’s previous efforts to increase forests, choosing to focus instead on the quality of the forest rather than the quantity. By focusing on quality, the GIM plans to increase the density of the forest rather than just expand the size of the forest area.
What’s more, the GIM also promises to take a holistic view of the forestry projects. Instead of merely planting trees to ramp up carbon targets, GIM will try to restore biodiversity and will focus on the entire ecosystem. The idea is to re-establish habitats such as grasslands, mangrove forests and wetlands.
Right from its inception to its current stage, the GIM has demonstrated that it is quite different from many of India’s big-ticket projects. For one, Mr. Ramesh has decentralized the project to a great extent in an attempt to ensure transparency from the outset. To this point, the draft proposal for the GIM was available on the environment ministry’s website for nearly six months, allowing the consideration of input from a wide section of the polity before the final proposal was readied. One of the centerpieces of the GIM implementation is the involvement of a number of local institutions, which form the backbone of India’s villages.
Still, the GIM could face some serious challenges in the near future. So far, Mr. Ramesh has had success in getting the approval for the project from his boss, the Prime Minister. But getting money from the purses of an overstretched boss could prove tough even for a dynamic politician like Mr. Ramesh.
Currently, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has an annual budget of Rs 8550 crore. However, to sustain spending of the order required by GIM, its annual budget has to be hiked by over 55% in the next ten years. This will take a giant leap of faith from Dr. Singh to allocate such a budget for an environmental cause.
Given this, the flag-bearers of GIM are scouting for international funding. India’s Environment Secretary Vijai Sharma, has been trying to bolster his coffers for GIM under certain funds that finance enhanced climate change technologies. By trying to club GIM with certain technologies, Indian bureaucrats seem confident that they will be able to win funding for their ambitious project. Besides, India’s environment ministry is collaborating with ISRO, the country’s satellite designing and launching agency, to design satellites that will monitor the green cover of the country’s expansion of forests.
No doubt, the GIM proposal offers hope for a greener future for India. Whether it is a turning point in India’s green history remains to be seen. However, with the demonstration of political will, ‘let’s go green’ may be more than just a catchphrase from Rajasthan to Kerala.
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