Monday, February 1, 2016

35 Green India Mission (GIM): carbon with benefits. Forest Landscape Restoration in India-VI.

The Green India Mission (GIM): carbon sequestration with benefits

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at

This brings us to the final (and most recent) application of the landscape approach in forest restoration in India, the Green India Mission (Government of India, 2010, 2011). This started out as a straightforward forest carbon sequestration programme statement  as one of the eight missions of the prime minister’s National Action Plan on Climate Change. However, it was apparent from previous experiences, such as the social forestry projects and the JFM based projects, that any intervention in the forest sector was bound to have a whole trail of collateral considerations, external effects, and social and environmental concerns, so that it would be foolhardy to design a project or programme solely for increasing carbon in the standing forest crops. Therefore, while at the core there remained the target of raising 5 million hectares (mha) of new forest and improving the condition (standing volume) of another 5 mha of existing growth, there had to be a process-oriented, bottom-up, participatory, approach to identifying the locations and character of these crops and interventions. As can be seen from the mission document and brochure, the actual interventions would be integrated with  restoration and improvement of a variety  of ‘ecosystems’ or ecological types, such as forest of various densities, wetlands, scrubland, grassland, mangroves, cold desert, abandoned mines, and agro-forestry, and social forestry-type interventions  on 3 mha non-forest land , not forgetting institutional lands, urban and peri-urban lands, and so on. Thus the programme would have multiple benefits apart from sequestering carbon, such as improving habitats and conserving biodiversity[1], restoring degraded lands and reducing soil and water loss, improving urban and rural environments, and supporting livelihoods through such interventions (this could be from agro-forestry, or from non-timber products in the forest or outside it, and integration with other rural sectors such as livestock/fodder, etc.). There are also to be a number of “cross-cutting” interventions like livelihoods enhancement, improving fuel efficiency of wood-burning stoves and promoting alternative energy, etc.

Hacked forest. Purdal, Shimoga, Karnataka, May 1990

Result of protection, Purdal, Shimoga, Karnataka, May 1990

Of specific interest here is the explicitly stated intention to adopt the “landscape approach”, which is interpreted as small to medium catchments around the village/ settlement of say 5000-6000 ha. The mission is to be multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder, with the community  being in charge of identifying problems, devising responses, and monitoring the implementation, which is expected to be done through the gram sabha (GS) and the “revamped” JFM committees  and Forest Development Agencies (FDAs) in the districts under the aegis of the panchayat raj  institutions (PRI). The challenge lies in the fact that the government has not provided separately in the Plan document or annual budgets for the Rs.45,000 crores[2] (say USD 7 billion) that is the estimated  cost over the next 10 years; the mission is to be funded by convergence from other on-going programmes, schemes, and missions, such as the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) which has a budget of around Rs.50,000 crores a year (Government of India, 3 March 2015).  

Criticisms and problems of the landscape approach in GIM

Not surprisingly, social environmentalists and commentators have been quick to jump on the GIM on account of the possible equity repercussions (as in the case of the SF projects, JFM in general, WGFP in particular, etc.).  The Forest Rights Act website ( describes the “Dangers of the Green India Mission: A formula for more land and resource grabbing”, and states that it is all a ploy to grab the communities’ resources and convert them into carbon credits. Sourish Jha, Assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, P.D.Women’s College, Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, charges that “the so called community institutions implicitly or explicitly involve an inclusive technique of exploitation of forest communities under the rubric of ‘public-people participation’.” His paper seeks to “expose further the neo-liberal schemata for incentivization of the community service through GIM for raising carbon stock to promote an integrated carbon market which ultimately will lead to defacement of the organic relationship between the community and the forest” (Jha, no date, probably 2011?). The web-based journal Equations (December 2011) calls the GIM “India’s REDD+ Action Plan to disempower and evict forest communities from their own homelands”.  A parallel paper on the website (ascribed again to Equations) charges that “GIM targets these areas for large scale afforestation programmes with fast growing native species and closure to grazing on rotational basis thereby preparing the ground for displacing the forest communities from these last forest areas, so depriving them of their habitat and livelihood options”. In a more balanced critique, Sumana Dutta (2016) feels that the GIM document is handing down a pre-conceived menu of options, which may not all be appropriate in the specific situations of a locality, such as the Bankura forest of West Bengal that the author was familiar with. On a different note, Dutta very perceptively also comments that the experience of the ground staff needs to be brought in, which has been affirmed in this author’s  response in the Letters column of the following issue of EPW (Dilip Kumar, 2016).
Degraded Minor Forest, Honnavar, Karnataka, May 1990. Note plantation on hill-top

Some comments may be not out of place  here from the viewpoint of the forest administration. Firstly, it is very doubtful whether any carbon sequestered through increased growing stock on the ground, will ever be parlayed into dollars under the REDD+ scheme, since India is very unlikely to be a major candidate for international carbon funding, as explained previously by the author (Dilip Kumar, 2014b). Therefore, it may be an exaggeration to say that carbon markets are going to threaten local uses and communities. Secondly, the carbon captured has been seen consciously as a side benefit in the GIM document, although it is true that the first impetus came from the climate change mitigation interest. Although the initial drafts may have been cast mainly in terms of biomass accrual and carbon capture (much as the early draft of the WGFP was cast mainly in terms of improved status of the forests), those who were present at the discussions leading to the changed concept of multiple co-benefits will bear witness to the sometimes heated arguments that accompanied the drafting process. The point made by the foresters (among them this author) was very much on the lines that the social commentators are making, that it is difficult to make interventions in India’s forests without bringing in train social effects, and hence it is difficult, and inadvisable, to try to make projects aiming at increasing biomass on the ground, a purely technical problem.

Thirdly, almost any land-based intervention in India is going to have repercussions that may not always be equitable. The green revolution in agriculture, for instance, obviously has better benefits for the larger and better-off land owners, and mechanization and crop and composition technical change often has repercussions on the employment of low-skill wage labour (see previous references to Myrdal, 1968, pp.1344-45, 1367). But this does not mean that no change or progress should be attempted. Similarly in forestry, some interventions like closure of a particular patch of forest may impose costs on the landless or the women, especially in the initial years, but these could be compensated by earmarking other areas or developing sustainable harvesting practices, varying the density of planting,  and so on. In the single-interest schemes of the past, the forest department used to take up plantations on a restricted area without consideration for such spill-over effects, but under JFM and now the landscape approach, it is expected that the whole situation will be addressed, including provision for the landless, the women,  NTFP collectors, bamboo workers, etc. Perhaps the most important difference in the landscape approach would be the way the situation analysis and problem identification will be developed before finalizing the annual operational plans. The specific  models in the GIM document should therefore be taken as just suggestions, and the actual interventions are to be worked out on the ground through discussions.

During the formulation of the GIM and the public consultation sessions, feedback from many forest officers (privately to the author; the foresters were seldom given a hearing in public) was that the coordination of many different departments would be a problem, and that the only   feasible way to guarantee some useful outcome would be to give the implementing department a clear-cut objective and physical target, give it clear-cut and full responsibility for its own efforts, and provide the funds in a timely and dependable manner. For example, the forest department will be happy to take the responsibility for, say, raising nurseries and fuelwood and fodder plantations; but they would not be able to guarantee the timing and appropriateness of actions of other agencies, private or government, like the extension of compressed cooking gas fuels, minimum support price purchases of collected non-timber forest products, or provision of animal health services, and so on. This, of course, would relegate to lower priority the bottom-up, open-ended, consultative, community-led process envisaged in the landscape approach.

The GIM seeks to meet such problems by suggesting a somewhat convoluted management structure, by assuming that the central control will be with the district planning forum (a panchayati raj institution of elected representatives), while the funds may flow directly from the centre or through the district Forest Development Agency (FDA) which is looking after the National Afforestation Programme (NAP), and thence to the implementing entities which may be any of the bodies at the village or community level, under both the PRI umbrella (including, among others, the Forest rights Committees, Biodiversity Managememnt Committees, etc.), and the community-based organizations (CBOs) sponsored by the line departments (like the village forest committees, VFCs). Since synchronization of various components will depend on the willingness of other agencies not under the project’s control, the end result of an integrated project, however noble the intentions, may well be a lop-sided development of those elements that were in the control of the principal implementing department or agency.

A special problem with the GIM as rolled out in recent years is that funds have not been ear-marked in the national plan (see the author’s critique of the XII Plan, Dilip Kumar, 2015). On the other hand, most of the money is supposed to be brought in from other programmes like MNREGA, Plan schemes like the NAP, Finance Commission devolutions to the states, the Compensatory Afforestation funds (CAMPA), other Climate Change Missions, and so on. This poses the question, what is the real additionality contributed by the GIM. If the forest departments of the states  themselves may tend to see the GIM as an unnecessary addition to their work burden, with little financial backing, the other departments and agencies that are supposed to coordinate with the GIM management would tend to see it as a completely useless intrusion. Even the PRIs, the district planning structure, and the village bodies (Gram Sabha) may well see the GIM as an imposition, if it comes asking for funds from their budgets in addition to their time and efforts. This may well be the killer assumption that will make its success unlikely. The same would probably be true of any integrated, multi-sectoral approach: unless it comes carrying gifts (budget, expertise, technical cooperation, capacity building, infrastructure improvement, support for NGO and SHGs, foreign visits, and so on and on),  the target groups are liable to wonder why they should put their resources and time at its disposal.

Social objectives and the Forest Department

A question comes up, how far is the forest department responsible for social change and setting right inequities in the society. Sharachchandra Lele (Lele & Menon, 2014, p.52) accepts that poverty alleviation by itself is not a fair criterion to judge the success of JFM. In fact, if one makes a dispassionate economic assessment, it is not clear that poverty can be removed (even for forest-dependent tribals and others) by depending solely on forest produce, as returns from forestry are relatively low per unit effort and resource.  For example, after all the organizational effort for collection of tendu (Diospyros) leaves for the beedi (leaf-rolled smokes), the average collector is left with less than a month’s worth of wages in a year in Central India, at considerable cost to the trees’ growth as they have to be repeatedly cut to get a flush of leaves (and it may be added that beedis, the poor man’s cheroots, are a major cause of cancer). As for the forest department, it sees JFM mainly as a mutually beneficial way of rehabilitating degraded forest, but also as a way of generating and providing wage labour as a support to forest-fringe villages.

Bamboo plantation, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Oct 2011.

However, just because forest restoration is the starting point of JFM (or GIM, or the forest landscape restoration approach,  for that matter), this does not mean that the foresters are entirely neutral to poverty alleviation or equity considerations. After all, as a wing of the state executive, the forest departments also share in the national objectives of improving the condition of the poor, especially the socially and economically deprived (from whose ranks at least 25% of the forest personnel themselves are recruited), in addition to the environmental conservation goals. As a matter of strategy, also, if the department feels that rural poverty is part of the reason why people depend on sale of unsustainably collected wood and other forest products, then improving the rural incomes through other occupations can well become a part of the landscape conservation strategy.

Tussor silk moth larva, Jabalpur, Oct 2011.

Both the supply side and the demand side are then a candidate for the strategy. On the supply side, by creating more biomass (in fringe forest and non-forest lands) specially for the collectors (headloaders) and the local consumers, whether it be fuelwood or poles or bamboos for artisanal raw material, the programme will shift the users to a sustainable extraction regime, thereby saving the forest proper from unregulated hacking, cutting of saplings, setting of fire, etc. (the social forestry strategy). On the demand side, by providing other energy sources (e.g. liquid petroleum gas, solar water heaters and driers, biogas, etc.), the communities are gradually induced to reduce their requirement of forest biomass. By improving water harvesting and thereby supporting agriculture, pressure due to headloading, grazing, etc. on forest may be reduced. Therefore general improvement in the rural economy, e.g. by improving water availability, granting land (even marginal forest or shifting cultivation plots) to the landless (as in the Forest Rights Act, 2006), supporting new livelihoods (forest-based like lac, tussor silk cultivation, or others, like tailoring, computer operation), may well contribute to the ultimate goal of taking pressure off the forests. So the forest departments too may well have a long-term interest in poverty alleviation and equity considerations, and need not be condemned outright as opportunistically using the community as unpaid watchmen.

[1] The programme monitors and implementers would have to be extra vigilant in dealing with non-forest habitats like grasslands and wetlands, in order not to fall into the error of planting up all hectares with dense tree crops.
[2] Crore = 10 million

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014b. Climate Change, Forest Carbon Sequestration and REDD-Plus. The Context of India. Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. XLIX, No.22, May 24, 2014, p.22-25.

Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2015. Forestry in the 12th plan. No tears for the Planning Commission India. Self-published as Forest Matters, No.7-9, February 2015. Available as a pdf at, and in blog postings at

Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2016. Green India Mission. Letters, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol.LI, No.5, Jan 30, 2016, p.4.

Dutta, Sumana. 2016. Continuing the Forest Conservation Debate: Rhetoric and Reality of Green India Mission. Economic & Political Weekly, 23 Jan 2016, Vol.LI, No.4, pp.49-55.

Equations. 2011. Green India Mission: India’s REDD+ Action Plan to disempower and evict forest communities from their own homelands. Equations, December 2011. Author Souparna Lahiri? Available at

Equitable Tourism Organisation (website). Forests, Communities and the “Green India Mission”: Promises and Failures of Ecotourism. (By Equations). Available at

Government of India. 2010. National Mission for a Green India. National Consultations. Ministry of Environment  and Forests, New Delhi. Available at

Government of India. 2011. Green India Mission Brochure dated 26 March 2011 available at the ministry website,

Government of India. 2015. Guidelines for convergence of MGNREGS with GIM. Memo .F.No.9-5/2015/GIM/MGNREGS dated 3 March 2015 of the Ministry of  Environment, Forests & Climate Change, New Delhi. Available at

Jha, Sourish. 2011?. The Green India Mission (GIM): A Roadmap for Neo-liberal Exploitation in Forest.

Lele, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon. 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Myrdal, Gunnar. 1968. Asian Drama. An Inquiry Into the Poverty of Nations. Twentieth Century Fund, inc. Reprinted in India 1982, 2004, Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi.

No comments:

Post a Comment