Deforestation in India

Alcorn and Molnar (1996) described the conflict arising from deforestation in India. As in most developing countries, deforestation affects two interest groups: commercial interests and subsistence interests. The commercial interest group has used forests to generate capital, as if nature were just another asset to be converted into some other capital asset without penalty. On the other hand, members of the subsistence interest group view forests as the base of their support. Destruction of the forests means the end of their benefits.

Through its rules, policies, and price supports designed to promote industrialization, as well as through budget allocation and economic analyses, in India the state has generally supported the commercial interests allied with the political elites. Those dependent on nature for subsistence have exercised little political power. Although Indian communities have long fought to retain or regain rights to make decisions about forest management, the state has usurped their rights in the name of modern management and conservation.

The subsistence base of three major sociopolitical groups in India has been particularly affected by this progressive loss of rights and alienation from forest management: pastoralists, tribes, and sedentary farmers. Pas-toralists are largely dependent on open woodlands for fodder to supplement pasture. Tribes in India have been concentrated in the hill forests, especially at the northeastern border with Myanmar and China. Tribal cultures had the most rules regarding forest management, ranging from replanting to the maintenance of sacred groves. The third group is sedentary non-tribal villagers who depend on forests for fodder for their livestock, for cooking fuel, for timber, and for non-timber forest products. This group has had the most success in resisting usurpation of their forests, in part because of the Gandhian tradition of peaceful resistance and a religious tradition that values peace for all living organisms. The "Chipko" movement, in which women hugged trees to keep them from being felled for commercial use, began in 1972 and in 1981 achieved a ban on commercial deforestation in an area of 40,000 km2.

Nevertheless, deforestation continued to be a major problem in India in the 1990s. In the industrial sector, shortages of raw materials and obsolete equipment caused forest-based processing enterprises to operate at a fraction of their capacity. The demand for pulp, paper, and manufactured wood products spiraled as urban and middle-class incomes rose and consumer demands for wood and paper products increased.

Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, there have been efforts to combat deforestation. Almost all the Indian states have had extensive afforestation programs to meet the rising demand for forest products and to help check deforestation. Social forestry programs have been implemented following Gujarat Forest Department's experiments with community woodlots in the 1970s. In 1976, the National Commission in Agriculture recommended a national social forestry effort, and government, bilateral donors, and multilateral development banks funded it. They were originally directed at the fuelwood crisis, but have evolved to supply all types of forest products. Evaluations of the program have been varied, depending on the criteria used. While industrial supply of wood or pulp has in some cases met the needs of industry, social equity issues have fared less well. In many cases, poor people were hurt when common property resources were closed to them in order to create plantations whose products have mainly helped those already rich. On the other hand, social forestry programs have frozen the common property status of land, and thereby prevented further privatization.

Hundreds of grassroots groups have arisen in India, and their concern is with conserving the environment for the benefit of local communities. These groups are not concerned with environmental protection per se, but with the proper use of the environment and who should benefit from it. For example, the vision of the "Centre for Science and the Environment" [a major non-governmental organization (NGO) based in New Delhi] calls for each rural settlement in India to have a clearly and legally defined environment to protect and improve.

Over the past few years, there has been a marked change in the Indian economy, as a result of the globalization of some service industries. Hightech firms such as IBM are now setting part of their operations, such as software programing, in India as well as in other developing countries where wages and others costs are much cheaper than in industrialized countries. Medical centers in the USA are relying on medical doctors in India to process data. Many less skilled Indians are manning call centers as service representatives for US corporations (Irwin 2004). Many young people are being trained in telephone etiquette and to speak with regional accents, depending upon where the incoming call originates. These young people are breaking away from tradition, and are increasingly involved in the global economy. The transformation in India has been remarkable. "India has shifted away from socialism and dived headfirst into global trade, the information revolution and turning itself into the world's service center" (Friedman 2004). Whether the new service economy will replace the older extraction economy on a scale to reduce the problem of deforestation and environmental degradation remains to be seen.

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