Parameters Evolved for Assessing ‘Health’ of Forests

Government agencies, senior foresters, academicians and representatives of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) got together in a unique initiative to formulate scientific parameters aimed at improving the management of the forests of the country on sustainable basis. The occasion was a two-day workshop on "National Level Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India" organised by the India Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, at New Delhi on July 04, 2000.

The parameters known as Criteria and Indicators (C&I) for sustainable Forest Management (SFM) would help the NGOs, stakeholders and people, besides the government, to assess for themselves the status and ‘health’ of Indian forests. The whole process can be compared with a thermometer, one of the criteria for measuring human health, with the help of certain indicators such as temperature. Once, the system of C&I are in place, they will provide a rationalised framework for monitoring local and national progress towards sustainable forest management.

The eight criteria identified for monitoring the management of forests are:

1. increase in the extent of forest and tree cover

2. maintenance, conservation and enhancement of bio-diversity

3. maintenance and enhancement of ecosystem function and vitality

4. conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources

5. maintenance and enhancement of forest productivity

6. optimisation of forest resources utilisation.

7. maintenance and enhancement of social, cultural and spiritual benefits and

8. adequacy of policy, legal and institutional framework.

Inaugurating the workshop, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Shri Babu Lal Marandi said that the decline in the forest area, which occurred in the early 90’s, has been halted to a great extent, and some of the States have even shown increase in their forest cover. He pointed out that India has always been committed to the conservation of its forests and bio-diversity, and sustainability is the central theme of our Forest Policy, 1988.

Shri Marandi emphasised the need for developing new methods to provide feedback on the implementation of the forest policy, due to the rapidly changing environment under which forests are being managed. He commended the Indian Institute of Forest Management for taking timely initiative in 1998 to generate a pool of knowledge for infusing the idea of using criteria and indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in the country. This led to the identification of eight national level criteria and 43 related indicators. This set of C&I is relevant not only for the four major forest types of India, but also for the Dry forests of South and South East Asia that include, besides India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

A series of workshops and meetings have been organised in different regions of India to sensitize foresters and other stakeholders of the national forest for adopting Participatory Forest Management as a means for attaining Sustainable Forest Management. The present workshop aims to achieve the following objectives:

1. to review the national level criteria and indicators for SFM and examine its conformity with other International and country based processes for adoption at the Government of India level.

2. to develop strategies for developing State level C&I and its adoption by all State Governments.

3. to assess the associated research need and to develop strategies to take up benchmark studies.

4. to identify the aspects of policy, institutional and legal, technical measures necessary for implementing SFM and suggest areas for strengthening.

5. to asses the requirement of funds and develop mechanisms for mobilizing international assistance for operationalizing SFM in India.