No Justice for India's Forests

In a move that spells trouble for India's forests and one that blatantly favours private interests, the government has asked that the Supreme Court disband a forest protection panel that has been overseeing forest management for the last ten years and to instead leave it to the executive branch of the government.

The forest protection committee was put into place by the Supreme Court in 1996 as a body that would supervise and report on the use of forested areas, in addition to keeping tabs on the environmental effect of development. Logging in forests now requires permission from the Supreme Court — and that includes any kind of industrial or commercial development. But now, perhaps that is all about to change.Just last week, India's prime minister Manmohan Singh announced that India would attempt to develop a national strategy to battle climate change, which included a national reforestation program optimistically called "Green India."

However, details from a government affidavit that emerged last week said that in protecting the forest from private interests, the Supreme Court was actually impeding development and should have no power to do so.

"Social activists without any background of scientific issues have tried to influence the hearings in the cases through submissions on aspects which are in the domain of forestry science," the Ministry of Environment and Forests dismissively told the court. Yup, god forbid if those pesky environmentalists interfere when the government wants to shake hands with big business behind the veil of science.

Without the Supreme Court's protection, one can only imagine where the forests of India will go — literally down the drain. As Treehugger reported earlier, reforestation areas will probably be leased by the government to private pulp companies to make more paper products like toilet paper.

Foreign mining interests are also focussing on forests in Orissa, a state on the east coast well-known for its wealth in natural resources and population of indigenous peoples (called adivasis), who may be displaced further if private interests get a stronger foothold.

Environmentalists and the justices alike are seeing right through the scheme. "Forests are not safe with the government," Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said. "Vested interests will prevail if the fate of forests is left to the government," he said.

Environmental lawyer Raj Panjwani agrees: "It is only because of the protective umbrella put in place by the court that the forest cover in the country has gone up."
::Yahoo News India

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