Monday, November 6, 2017

50 Forest Certification-IV. Bhopal-India standards for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)

In India, the process of developing Criteria & Indicators (C&I) for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) was entrusted to the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) Bhopal, the so-called Bhopal-India Process. This was one among the international consultations initiated under the aegis of the ITTO, and meant to address the needs of “dry forests in Asia” covering nine countries (Humphreys, p.122). From another perspective, the Bhopal-India Process was meant to come up with a national framework for India itself. I base my account on some of their publications: a “Manual” for C&I for SFM in India (Kotwal, Omprakash & Dugaya 2008), and a more general survey of the subject of “Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management” (Yadav, Kotwal and Menaria 2007).

The publication by Yadav et al. (2007) gives a rapid overview of the concepts of SFM and C&I in the modern context, much like the other foreign publications already cited. Of special interest are the views on “why become certified” (p.47): demand from consumers for wood and paper products that have been independently certified as coming from sustainable forests; a mechanism to establish genuineness of claims to being sustainable; and in some countries, government requirements.

From the Indian context, my own feeling is that these considerations may not be very persuasive in the domestic market. Since much of the growing demand for wood products is being met from imports, the end consumer is not likely to reject a product (say, the Sustainable Forestry Handbook produced for the South Asian market) only because it does not bear the FSC certificate (I didn’t!). A few companies that wish to export their products may be keen to have a certificate: they will prefer to get it under an internationally recognized system. A purely government-run certifying outfit will not have much recognition (or credibility) in the western markets. Consumer organizations in those countries cannot be expected to assess and monitor foreign certifying frameworks unless the volume and value of merchandize traded is substantial. More than wood, there is the possibility that forest certification may be demanded for non-wood products like spices and beverages, medicinal plant products, aromatics, and similar. This may call for a different orientation in the certification strategy in India.

Another interesting item in Yadav et al. (2007) is their suggestions on the strategy for operationalizing the C&I in India (p.29). They make the significant point that a high level of commitment has already been demonstrated in the domestic context by such instruments as the National Forest Policy, the Joint Forest Management (JFM) orders, the several laws governing forests, wildlife, environmental conservation, etc. There is also the National Working Plan Code, which has “incorporated the strategy for operationalization of C&I”  (p.30). Now all that is required is to draw up the set of C&I suitable to the domestic policy and legal situation (including judicial orders), design reporting formats, and incorporate these in the WP Code. This will have to be followed by all the government forests in India, as they are required by orders of the Supreme Court to work the forests only on the basis of duly approved working plans.

A fairly well specified form of the C&I coming out of the Bhopal-India process has been presented in the second IIFM publication (Kotwal et al. 2008). This lays out a set of 8 Criteria, with a total of 37 related Indicators. This set is reported to have the endorsement of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (2008). Obviously the point of immediate interest would be to compare this with the international frameworks like the FSC. Here is the occasion for us to look at the actual list of C&I (or P&C in the FSC system), as in this very summarized table:

  8 Criteria (Bhopal-India)                             10 Principles (FSC)
C1. Extent of forest and tree cover               P1. Compliance with laws and FSC
C2. Biodiversity                                            P2. Tenure, user rights, responsibilities
C3. Forest health                                           P3. Indigenous peoples’ rights
C4. Soil & water conservation              P4. Community relations & workers’ rights
C5. Forest productivity                                 P5. Benefits from the forest
C6. Optimized forest utilization                    P6. Environmental impact
C7. Social, cultural, spiritual benefits           P7. Management plan
C8. Policy, legal, institutional Framework    P8. Monitoring and assessment
                                                                       P9. High Conservation Value forests

A cursory glance is sufficient to realize that these are two very different beasts. The FSC system consists of 10 Principles and as many as 55 constituent Criteria (not counting sub-items), whereas the Bhopal-I is a somewhat smaller set (8 Criteria with 37 Indicators, not counting sub-items).  It is also obvious that these two frameworks have different orientations. FSC is strong on stakeholders’ status and interests (the user or neighbouring community, especially if they are “indigenous” people, the environmentalist global community, etc.). The national set of C&I tends to give greater attention to the physical and biological state and productivity of the forest resource itself.

We can attempt a cursory comparison of the two systems. P1 (Principle 1) of the FSC has 6 items, which talk of adherence to all national and local laws as well as international conventions in signatory countries, and long-term commitment to the FSC principles themselves. However, the FSC has an item (Criterion) that refers back to commitment to the FSC principles themselves. One could as well have a requirement of commitment to the principles of SFM (Sustainable Forest Management) itself, which is a sort of endless loop. In case of conflict between laws and FSC Principles, such cases “shall be evaluated for the purpose of certification, on a case by case basis, by the certifiers and the involved or affected parties”, which looks like jargon for leaving it to the field practitioners. The corresponding Criterion (C) in B-I (Bhopal-India) is C8, “Adequacy of policy, legal and institutional framework”, which is a “Process” or “Input” level condition, whereas FSC P1 is more of a “Performance” or “Outcome” criterion. In B-I, probably, adherence to the law is taken as a given. Other components in B-I C8 are the existence and implementation of an approved Working Plan (which occurs in FSC P7), number of forest offence cases, status of research & development, HRD efforts, Forest Resource Accounting (including biodiversity status, carbon sequestration), monitoring & evaluation, data collection and utilization, manpower, etc. These are actually management functions that occur is P7 in the FSC framework.

The second FSC Principle (FSC P2) concerns tenure and use rights, with 3 sub-items, with emphasis on the empowerment of local communities; P3 specifically covers indigenous peoples, and P4, community relations and workers’ rights. Here is where the gap between the two systems starts to widen. C7 of B-I does specify “Maintenance and enhancement of social, cultural, and spiritual benefits”, but measured in terms of participation rather than empowerment as such: enrolment in JFM (Joint Forest Management) committees, use of indigenous knowledge (not so much ownership of intellectual property rights and payment therefor), and maintenance of sacred groves. In the case of state forests, it would appear that forest departments themselves would desire a firm authority for themselves to protect and manage, rather that giving formal control to communities. Local forest-dependent tribal communities (the equivalent of FSC’s “indigenous peoples”) are provided for in the more recent enactment of what is popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (2006), but it would appear that the forest department does not have formal jurisdiction over these areas any more. As regards workers’ rights, the law of the land will be supposedly followed as a matter of course. The social environmentalists’ advocacy for transferring power over forests to the village community is well argued in Lele & Menon (2014), while I have tried to present the case for a more balanced, cooperative sharing of power between community and the state apparatus, in my monograph (Dilip Kumar 2014).

Principle 5 of the FSC covers “Benefits from the forest”, which include all types of products and services, at a sustainable level of harvest or drawal, stressing the multiple use, multiple user aspects. B-I is also informed with a similar multiple use sustainability approach, so there should not be any large distance in this respect. FSC has a separate mention of “Environmental impact”, P6, which talks of soil and water conservation, ecosystem protection at the landscape level, biodiversity, etc. These are also covered as separate items in B-I: C1 Extent of forest/tree cover, C2 Biodiversity, C3 Forest health, C4 Soil & water conservation, etc. What is not required by B-I is a formal EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), which seems to be a requirement in FSC. Conversion of forest to plantations or non-forest use is expressly prohibited under FSC 6.10, except under certain stringent conditions. Such a clause is not seen in B-I, but then the entire issue is governed by the Forest Conservation Act 1980, not to speak of the various Court orders, hence it is probably taken as given in the legal-policy framework.

Principle P7 of FSC covers the “Management Plan”, which is subsumed in C8 “Policy, legal, institutional Framework” under the B-I framework, as 8.1(b), “Status of approved Working Plan”. Of course the structure and requirements of the forest working plan itself are described in great detail in the National Working Plan Code of the government forest department, which has been revised in 2014 to incorporate the social, environmental and sustainability concerns of the SFM discussion. Most of these principles and requirements are therefore reflected in the National Working Plan Code 2014, which is substantially the same as a 2012 draft prepared by the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun. Interestingly, this draft itself has been tailored closely to the Bhopal-India framework, and in fact takes over the reporting formats in toto from it.

Another facet of FSC worth mentioning would be the special concern with protection of what are termed (P9) “High Conservation Value forests”. As explained in the Sustainable Forestry Handbook, six HCVs have been defined (Higman et al.2006, p.152): four are areas having significant biodiversity or ecosystem values, and two referring to local communities’ traditional habits and habitat. Some of these are also covered in B-I, e.g. C2 “Maintenance, conservation and enhancement of biodiversity”, referring to both notified PAs (wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, etc.) and biodiversity status in forests. Indicator 2.6(b) also brings in “Status of non-destructive harvest of Non-Timber Forest Products”, and 6.2(a) “Status of non-destructive harvest of wood”, which probably intends to highlight the need to minimize collateral damage to surrounding stems during tree felling. Criterion C7 covers the social aspects, including Indicator 7.3 “Extent of cult of cultural/sacred groves”, which may answer to FSC High Conservation Values HCV5 and HCV6.

It may be fair to say that FSC strives to impose, or elicit, specific actions in support of the various components of SFM as outlined above. When one comes to the B-I system, it seems to take for granted a functioning SFM framework already on the ground, and seeks to draw attention to specific aspects through a long list of reporting formats, rather than through action points. For biodiversity conservation, for instance, B-I asks for reporting on the existing Protected Area network, rather than requiring the process to bring out additional needs. This is understandable, since B-I was drawn up by an academic institute (albeit with wide consultation) on behalf of the forest department, which is already governed by an elaborate set of laws, Court orders, etc., and which is already in charge of a huge forest estate managed necessarily on SFM principles with stringent and detailed documentation and process requirements. As mentioned above, many of the actionable points are delegated to the Working Plan Code in the Indian set-up, whereas FSC seems to be incorporating much of the details of SFM into the certification standards themselves. In other words, FSC is designed up on an assumption that little of the SFM framework exists already; B-I is drawn up taking the sustained yield forestry basis of management, working plan system, and legal framework of the forest department as a given. In comparing B-I with FSC, therefore, it may be fair to stipulate the pre-existing legal and institutional framework of Indian forestry as part and parcel of the situation being scrutinised at the time of consideration for certification.

In the next section, we will try to pull together these observations and insights, review the options available, and suggest a possible response at the national policy level to the question of Forest Certification in India.


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests. Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No. 32, Institute for Social & Economic Change, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. Posted at

FRI. 2012. National  Working Plan Code. Draft prepared by Forest Research Institute Dehradun (Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education). Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. 

Gale, Fred and Marcus Howard. 2011. Global Commodity Governance. State Responses to Sustainable Forest and Fisheries Certification. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Government of India. 2014. National Working Plan Code 2014. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Downloadable copy available at

Higman, Sophie, James Mayers, Stephen Bass, Neil Judd and Ruth Nussbaum. 2006. The Sustainable Forestry Handbook. Second Edition, First South Asian Edition. The Earthscan Forestry Library. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Humphreys, David. 2006. Logjam. Deforestation and the Crisis of Global Governance. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London. 

Kotwal, P.C., M.D.Omprakash & Dharmendra Dugaya. 2008. Manual: Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India: An Operational Framework. Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation in India: IIFM-ITTO Research Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

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

MTCC. 2009. The First Ten Years 1999-2009. Written by Chew Lye Teng, Harninder Singh, Yong Ten Koong. Malaysian Timber Certifcation Council. Kuala Lumpur.

Upton, Christopher and Stephen Bass. 1995. The Forest Certification Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Yadav, Manmohan, P.C.Kotwal & B.L.Menaria. 2007. Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management. Centre for Sustainable Forest Management & Forest Certification: IIFM-ITTO Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).


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