Monday, July 9, 2012

Does Politics Save Hariyo Ban?

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Coinciding with the International Decade of Biodiversity, a five-year-long “Hariyo Ban” program worth US$ 37.4 million has been launched. The program is being undertaken under a joint initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and CARE International. One of the targets of the program is to restore and conserve critical forests in Tarai Arc Landscape in southern Nepal and North-South Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape running from the high Himalayas to the Tarai.

In the past, Nepal has received such financial assistances in huge amount from donor communities and launching several programs in the name of forest conservation. An OED study of the World Bank analyzes the projects, policies, and institutional reforms that have affected the management of Nepal's natural resources over 25 years (1966-89). The study finds that despite $4.5 billion of aid for projects affecting natural resources, Nepal still has worsening environmental problems and no effective strategy to address them. Yet, as resource degradation continues, the country's scope for improving living standards diminishes. Nepal is facing a wide range of environmental problems like massive deforestation, land degradation, air pollution, water pollution, river pollution, species extinction, haphazard waste disposal, global warming, climate change etc.

The Hariyo ban program has been launched with higher excitement and expectation. But if we make an analysis of the past efforts on forest conservation then we can say that the forest conservation projects have failed to achieve the target not due to lack of policies, programs and financial resources. It is just due to the lack of genuine implementation of the program and deforestation under political influence.

In 2009, the Government of Nepal launched the Rs. 15 million worth President Chure Conservation Program with a view to conserving the Chure range and control deforestation in the area. The Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation designed the program but the government made delay in endorsing it and releasing the budget in time. It is now evident that all efforts at sustainable development of the Chure range have failed. The area still witnesses rampant forestland encroachments, reckless tree felling, haphazard sand and gravel mining, to the detriment of the forest ecosystem and the local population. Poor watershed conditions manifest itself in land degradation, forest product scarcity, depletion of surface and ground water, with severe consequences for the local population as well as those living in the plains downstream.


Ever since Nepal achieved democracy in 1950, the political parties/lawmakers in power are playing direct and indirect role in the over exploitation of forest. The direct involvement of the government during the Panchayat regime encouraged massive deforestation. The Panchayat regime allowed citizens to cut down trees in exchange for votes and gather a majority against the political parties seeking multi-party democracy. The then rulers directly promoted deforestation to secure their position during the national referendum. The country witnessed the worst deforestation in the last 30 years in 2010. The Natural Resources and Means Committee (NRMC) under the Legislative Parliament which was formed to study the massive deforestation in the country conducted a field study in 26 districts of the Tarai and Inner Tarai regions last year, and concluded that a total of 82,794 hectares of forest land were destroyed in the fiscal year 2009-2010 during the tenure of the then Forest Minister Deepak Bohara. The National Vigilance Centre (NVC)—an anti-graft body formed under the Prime Minister—which concluded in a report that the massive deforestation during that year was a result of collusion between political parties, forest officials, and illegal wood traders. The government had formed a Judicial Commission headed by former Judge Govinda Prasad Parajuli. The Parajuli-led commission recommended action against more than 100 people — ranging from forest guards to high-level officials at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation and the community forest users’ groups. The Commission also held the then Minister Dipak Bohra responsible for the massive deforestation. Demanding action against the Minister, case was also filed in the Commission of Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Later, the CIAA gave him a clean cheat.


Some months ago, Forest and Soil Conservation Minister Mohammad Wakil Musalman was reported to have been demanding Rs 800,000 to 1 million each from two dozen district forest officers (DFOs), enticing them with transfers to lucrative district. The Minister transferred 11 DFOs to various districts flouting the existing Civil Service Act. The minister also flouted legal provisions by not seeking prior consent from the Ministry of General Administration (MoGA) before reaching such a decision. Likewise, he had also strongly pressed Forest Secretary and other senior ministry officials to take illegal decisions on three issues--- auction of red sandalwood, license renewal for half a dozen resin collection companies and transfer of three dozen district forest officers (DFOs) as per his own interests. Despite mounting media pressure and voice from civil societies to probe into the incident of Minister’s demands for bribe, neither the government has paid any attention to take action nor has the CIAA taken any step in this case. All these facts reveal that the politics has adversely influenced on forest conservation and governance. 

Unless and until the politicians are genuinely committed on forest conservation and the launched programs are genuinely implemented then forest conservation goal will only be limited on paper. Once Anton Pavlovich Chekhov had said way back in 1888 “There can be neither civilization nor happiness if forests crash down under the axe”. If the politics continue over the forest, there can neither be Hariyo ban nor happiness in Nepal. This is a bitter reality.



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