The paper pulp in turn will be used to feed an increasing demand for paper products from India's burgeoning middle class — from toilet paper to tea bags and cigarette filter papers.
Under a scheme named "Multi-Stakeholder Partnership for Forestation" (as if the complexities of reforestation could be neatly packaged into a cheerful shareholder's prospectus), the ministry proposes to entertain private bids for areas with less than ten percent tree cover, in return for paper pulp production.The government believes that by contracting companies to grow and farm the trees for pulp, the plan will benefit the environment and the growing paper industries, while also providing low-income communities dependent on the forests with a more reliable source of employment.
Environmental and social activists aren't buying that though. "The forests do not belong to the state or industry and cannot be owned or traded," says Shankar Gopalakrishnan of the Campaign for Dignity and Survival, an umbrella organization of forest community groups. "An enormous number of people live off minor forest produce and they will lose their homes and their livelihoods if the big corporates move in and get their way."
It is estimated that 40 million people in India depend upon the resources of forested areas for firewood, simple farming and cattle-grazing. After years of lobbying, paper and pulp corporations will have access to hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest under the scheme. Government authorities say that with the plan these forest dwellers will be the first to get jobs from the pulp industries.
"The local communities would be equal partners and contracts would be negotiated upfront and hardwired into a legal contract which would be enforceable by all sides," says former environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh.
However, opponents of the plan point out that the wording of the plan to protect the rights of traditional communities is ambiguous at best, especially in light of past precedents of commercial misappropriation, eased along by political corruption.
"We are completely opposed to the idea," says Monali Zeya Hazra of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and the Environment. "The government says that local people will benefit, but there are cases where state-owned paper industries have done this under a similar scheme and the people have not been given jobs or not had access to land they once lived on." ::Environmental News Network
See also: ::Forest Peoples Programme
Image from:Climate Justice Now