Some Aspects of the Ecological Crisis in India
THE effort in this paper is two fold. First, to establish the cridcality of the ecological crisis in India, especially in terms of forests and genetic resources, land management, water & air pollution. Secondly, I want to stress the urgency for social scientists, especially political economists, to seriously enter the environmental debate.
As is by now well recognised, forests are essential for the well-being of land and water resources and for climatic regulation. Agricultural activities are critically dependent on the forests which help control, among other things, soil erosion, floods, siltation of reservoirs, desertification and drought. It has been determined that in India the minimum forest cover required is one-third of its land area, with 60% forest cover in hill areas and 20% in the plains. Against this the current forest cover is estimated to be no more than 11%1. (See Table 1.)
History has shown that when the forest cover of an area falls below 10%, there is a serious threat of desertification. Many ancient civilisations have paid the price of desertification. "It is no coincidence that many ruins of great temples and palaces are today found amid sandy wastelands.... Mount Lebanon is referred to in the Epic of Gilgamesh (before 2000 BC) as a vast green mountain will tall cedars. Felling of the cedars of Lebanon had begun as early as 3000 BC, after which they formed the cornerstone of the Phoenicians' international trade".2 In more recent times Ethiopia provides an example of a country where forest cover has shrunk to well below the critical level.
While understanding the issues relating to forestry in India, three aspects ought to be kept in mind: conservation, afforestation and the distribution of forest resources.
Conservation of forests
The current situation of conservation follows from the fact that forest policy, till very recently, stressed on the productive aspects of forests. Very little, if anything, was done to conserve the forests. Though a system of working plans was introduced which involved the planning of timber extraction in
''' Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.