Sunday, February 8, 2015

07 Forestry and the Planning Commission-I. Forestry aspirations in the 12th Plan

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Revamping the Planning Commission

After the 2014 general elections and the new NDA government assuming power at the centre, one of the first major policy announcements was the winding up of the Planning Commission of India, apparently because the Commission was seen as an outside agency that has taken over too much of the power of budget formulation and allocation of funds that should rightly be under the control of the government. By now, it seems a fait accompli that the Planning Commission of India as we have known it is due to be closed down. At the same time, the government has initiated an alternate body, called the Niti Ayog, which seems to be intended as a policy advisory group (much like the National Advisory Council in the UPA regime?). A spate of articles and papers has appeared in the news media and scholarly journals, debating the pros and cons of the issue, and suggesting the way forward, but there seems to be little clarity on how the functions of the erstwhile Commission will be carried out in the new dispensation. This article discusses aspects and processes of the old Planning Commission, based on the experience of the forest sector, especially in the preparation of  the 12th Five Year Plan document (2012-17) during the recent past, and on what lessons can be drawn that may be helpful for the successor body to maintain both internal consistency and external relevance.

Forest Sector in the Twelfth Plan – aspirations and objectives

A question arises at the outset, of how a sector-centric analysis of a national plan document could be couched. To just say that the allocation is inadequate will not be very interesting, as any conceivable plan could well leave more unfulfilled clients than satisfied ones. We propose here to examine the 12th Plan proposals against the plan’s own statement of goals and principles, i.e. analysing it for ‘internal consistency’. It is also proposed to test the plan against the sector’s priorities and objectives, i.e. the plan’s ‘external relevance’, and to draw some general lessons on sectoral planning that may be useful for any successor institution that may be set up. 

“Environment, Forestry and Wildlife” are covered in Chapter 7 of Volume I of the 12th Plan document (Planning Commission, 2012). The “Vision” is laid out in Box 7.1 (p.202), which stresses the objectives of managing environment, forests and wildlife for “faster and equitable growth, where ecological security for sustainability and inclusiveness is restored, equity in access to all environmental goods and ecosystem services is assured through institution of people’s participation”, and ”A future in which the nation takes pride in the quality of the environment, forests, richness of its biodiversity, and efforts by the State and its people to protect, expand and enrich it, for intra and inter-generational equity and welfare of the local and global community.”   Para 7.2 lists out the seminal concerns: “equitable access to clean air and water, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, conservation of biodiversity, sustainable forest management, safety in the management of chemicals, wastes and other hazardous substances”. Both “international cooperation and national efforts” are stated to be necessary to achieve all these objectives.

The next paragraph, para 7.3, highlights the resource constraints that have limited the effectiveness of environmental and forest resources management in the past: the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) has been getting only Rs.2000 crores annually, a mere 0.012 per cent of GDP, and less than 0.25% of the annual national budget, which calls for a “substantial increase” in the investment for environmental protection and sustainable management of natural resources. Para 7.4 highlights the need to incorporate environmental concerns into planning and development activities in all the sectors, and para 7.5 expresses the hope that other ministries will earmark resources for environment and greening in their respective programs. Then follows a review of the Eleventh Plan.

Review of the 11th Plan (2007-12)

Out of the four environment related targets cited from the 11th Plan, para 7.9 refers to the forest-specific target of increasing forest and tree cover (FTC) by 5% of total land area of around 320  or million hectares  (mha) over 5 years, which would have taken the FTC from around 23.84% of total land area as per the State of Forest Report 2009 (see endnote 1) to 28.84%, or say an additional 16 mha. The plan document states that the tree planting achievement has been around 1.5 mha a year during the 11th Plan period, but “the actual increase in green cover is not likely to be more than 5.0 million ha during the entire Plan period”(p.204). Both the target and the impact need some clarification which is done in the section on the 12th Plan targets (see below).

Proceeding with the 11th Plan review, Para 7.15, highlights the importance given to “Rationalisation of Schemes during the Eleventh Plan” (p.206) by “suitably merging /clubbing its 68 smaller schemes into 22 thematic schemes”. In the Forestry and Wildlife (F&WL) sector, one proposal for Afforestation through Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) “has been dropped following the formulation of National Mission for Green India with similar objective on a much higher scale”, leaving six schemes under Forestry, and five under Wildlife including Animal Welfare at the end of the 11th Plan (ibid., p.406, Table 7.1). Reducing the number of schemes was apparently a big priority and matter of pride for the Commission, equally in the 12th Plan document, ignoring its implications on sector planning and vision (see below, and Planning Commissioner Advisor Mihir Shah’s article in the EPW, Shah, 2014).

Overall in the 11th Plan, against total “approved outlay” of Rs.10,000 cr of the ministry  for the whole 5 years (2007-12), “allocated” or actually “sanctioned” outlay amounted to some 9231 cr through the “budgeted expenditure”,  whereas “actual expenditure” amounted to around 8476 cr or 95% (ibid., p.207). Forests & Wildlife (F&WL) and National Afforestation & Eco-Development Board (NAEB) were together allotted a “sanctioned” outlay of Rs.6094 cr against which the total “actual expenditure” was expected to come to some 4438 cr over the 11th Plan period (Figure 7.2, p.208), or some 880 cr per year, which has to cover both Forests and Wildlife (para 7.92 of the 12th Plan document puts the current central assistance for afforestation programmes at only around Rs.350 cr per year, ibid., p.225). These figures give a convenient ground for comparing and assessing the budgetary support under the 12th Plan proposals.

Guiding principles and objectives for the 12th Plan (2012-17)

Targets and action for the 12th Plan are given from para 7.22 (p.207) and in Box 7.3, listing three “monitorable targets” in the areas of Environment and Climate Change, four in Forestry, three targets under Wildlife, Ecotourism and Animal Welfare, and two under Ecosystems and Biodiversity, and additionally “15 areas which should receive special attention” presented in Box 7.4 (para 7.23). The main points are as follows.

Targets for F&WL (from Box 7.3, p.209):

5. Greening of 5 mha under Green India Mission.
6. Technology-based monitoring of forest cover, biodiversity and growing stock including change-monitoring on periodical basis through dedicated satellite by 2017 and establishment of open web-based National Forestry and Environmental Information system for research and public accessibility by 2015.
7. Engagement of Village Green Guards/Community Foresters for every Joint Forest Management (JFM) village by 2016.
8. Establishing forestry seed bank in forest circles and Model Nursery in every district.
9. Twenty per cent of veterinary professionals in the country will be trained in treating wildlife.
10. Integrated Ecotourism District Plans covering 10 per cent of all potential Protected Areas (PAs) by 2017.
11. Promoting participation of private sector, civil societies, NGOs and philanthropists in animal welfare.

Goals (from Box 7.4):

6. Improve forest productivity, production and sustainable management of biodiversity (equity in access to benefit sharing with local people).
7. Restoration and intensification of forest-rangelands/grazing-land management and establish community grazing land around forest fringe villages.
8. Build capacity of Village Forest Committees/Joint Forestry Management Committees for management of forest resources including ecotourism.
9. Revive seed orchards and silviculture plots for various forest types of the country, as well as, for enlisted species under Minor Forest Produce/Non Timber Forest Produce (MFP/NTFP) including genetic improvement of and establishment of clonal orchards.
10. Reducing and managing human–wildlife conflict.
11. Commercialisation of permissible marine products rich in poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), vitamins and so on.
12. Promotion of ecotourism and participatory eco-development support livelihood of local population.

An overall statement of “strategy” in para 7.24 lays out the importance of improvement in “environmental governance” and moving toward a scientific and anticipative system based on sound objective data. A major new proposal appears to be the establishment of a “high powered body” called the National Environment and Forestry Council (NEFC) with the Prime Minister as chairman and Environment Minister as vice-chairperson, with representation from various ministries and a group of experts (para 7.31, p.211). Its “primary function would be to bring in harmony in the functioning of different Ministries and to ensure that the evolution of all policies, laws and their implementation concerning development, of every kind, are in conformity with the objectives outlined in the National Environmental Policy (NEP), 2006”. Similar Councils are called for in the states, and “environmental cells” in the ministries and departments at the centre and state governments “to mainstream environmental concerns in their activities and programmes” (para 7.32). A “comprehensive review and reform” of laws concerning Environment, Forests, Wildlife and Biodiversity will be undertaken in the Twelfth Plan in order to make them “more effective, work in harmony with each other and address new challenges” (para 7.33). In the specific context of forestry, review is suggested for “Developing harmony in the working of laws in the sector with the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996” (ibid., page 212). 

A multi-pronged approach to environmental regulation is also outlined, involving creation or strengthening of institutions like a National Environmental Monitoring Programme (para 7.37), a National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority, NEAMA (para 7.38), creation of a National Environment Restoration Fund, NERF (para 7.40), on the environment side of the ministry. To strengthen livelihoods support, it is proposed to develop non-timber forest products (NTFP) in a “holistic” way under an autonomous agency with branches in all the states, and a new scheme is suggested for the “overall management of NTFP resources including conservation and development of an estimated 6 lakh ha as well as value addition and marketing support” (para 7.45). A new focus on pasture management and rangeland development on “traditional grasslands on common/ revenue land around forest areas” is proposed for improving the livelihoods, nutrition and quality of life of “all fringe forest dwellers” (para 7.46).   Of direct relevance to forestry are the proposal for GIS-based mapping of areas under the Forest Rights Act 2006 (para 7.47) and strengthening of the National Forestry Information System (NFIS) to enable “networking with States for tracking changes in forest development, harvesting, trade and utilisation scenario with particular focus on issues of ownership and rights under Forest Rights Act” (para 7.66), revival of the Central Board of Forestry under the Prime Minister for policy development and consultation (para 7.48), reorientation of the Indian Council for Forestry Research & Education (ICFRE) on the lines of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (para 7.49), amending the Working Plan Code to “incorporate new dimension” along with empowering the “cutting edge level workers” for “transferring the rights in the field” (para 7.50), and creating a “green fund” by imposing a forest development tax or eco-tax (para 7.51).

In respect of wildlife, the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH) scheme would continue to be “the umbrella scheme for conservation and management of wildlife” (para 7.52), tiger conservation led by the National Tiger Conservation Authority would continue as a “flagship programme”, with emphasis on some new aspects like buffer areas and voluntary relocation of habitations along with regular monitoring of tiger population (para 7.52). Project Elephant “needs a new focus under the plan through the creation of the National Elephant Conservation Authority (NECA) and notification of critical areas of Elephant Reserves as Ecologically Sensitive Areas under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986”, and “special focus” is required on mitigation of human–elephant conflict through  strengthening of the existing Project Elephant Scheme (para 7.53). In addition, two new schemes are proposed: Operationalisation and Strengthening of Ecotourism for Local Livelihoods, and Promoting Participation of Private Sector and Philanthropists in Animal Welfare (para 7.55).

Now it remains to see how the 12th Plan document proceeds to convert all these high-sounding principles and objectives to concrete programmes on the ground (the test of ‘internal consistency’ suggested above), and how these objectives gel with the actual priorities of the forest sector (‘external relevance’).

Keywords: forestry, planning commission, governance, budgets, India

Endnote 1. The State of Forest Report (SFR) is published once in two years by the Forest Survey of India, and is an assessment of forest cover as per the satellite imagery obtained usually two years prior to the year of publishing. This time lag (which seems to have been reduced over successive years) used to be reflected in the naming scheme of the reports. Thus, SFR 2005, prepared by mid-2007 (released actually in January 2008 as per the PM’s message contained in it), pertains mostly to November-December 2004, except for the north-east and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, which was based on imagery of January-February 2005 (FSI, 2008). The next report to be published in 2009 would have been named SFR 2007, but  the MoEF changed the naming convention, naming it SFR 2009, although it reflected the satellite imagery of October 2006- March 2007. SFR 2007 therefore does not exist. Subsequent  reports have been named the SFR 2011 (published actually in February 2012), reflecting the position as per imagery of October 2008-March 2009, and SFR 2013,  based on satellite imagery of October 2010-January 2013, formally released only in September 2014 (after  the 2014 general elections), although the copyright notification is dated 2013.


FSI. 2009. India State of Forest Report 2009. Forest Survey of India. Dehradun. Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. .
FSI. 2011. India State of Forest Report 2011. Forest Survey of India. Dehradun. Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. .
FSI. 2013. India State of Forest Report 2013. Forest Survey of India. Dehradun. Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. .
Government of India. 2010. National Mission for a Green India. National Consultations. Ministry of Environment & Forests. New Delhi.
ICFRE. 2012. Forest Sector Report India 2010. Indian Council for Forestry Rsearch and Education, Dehradun. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Government of India, New Delhi.
Planning Commission of India. 2012. Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017). Volume I. Government of India, New Delhi. (accessed at
Shah, Mihir. 2014. The “New” Planning Commission. (EPW Web Exclusives”new’-planning-commission.html, 30 August 2014).

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