13th July 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
Q1. Discuss the reasons for the failure of compensatory afforestation in India. How can balance be maintained between urban redevelopment and ecological considerations?
- Compensatory afforestation (CA) is not new in India. Several national- and State-level laws permit change in use of forest land or cutting of trees as long as the damage can be offset. This is done by bringing more land under forest area, or planting more trees than what would be lost, or both. CA is seen as a compromise between ecological requirements and developmental aspirations.
- Following are the reasons why the policy of CA has not been successful in India-
- Growing trees is not a substitute for altering shared habitats. Urban green spaces, like forests, support a variety of life including birds and animals. In cities they are important public spaces for shelter and recreation, just as forests are culturally revered by tribal and village communities. These spaces perform critical ecological functions including water recharge. For forest-dependent communities, loss of these places means giving up livelihoods, homes and property. The value of such ecologies cannot be substituted by plantations.
- The availability of land where plantations can be raised without encumbrances. Further diversion of these CA lands for other uses is a challenge.
- Audits have indicated delays in fund disbursements by agencies seeking change in land use, and poor utilisation of funds by the forest department that is tasked with ensuring plantations. They are not mere implementation hassles if they have lasted so long.
- The afforestation overdrive by government departments is done in floodplains, grasslands and other ecosystems that are often not suitable for tree cover. Administrations do not carry out impact assessments of sites where CA is to take place. These areas are demarcated, and letters permitting land use change enlist these areas as designated zones for plantations. This is a form of dumping saplings in sites that are empty and where trees are not appropriate. For Delhi, one popular place for compensatory plantations is the Yamuna river floodplains. Citizens are rightfully questioning whether the floodplains should be where saplings should be dumped in lieu of fruit and flowering trees being cut to construct a World Trade Centre in the heart of the city.
- Laws like the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 and the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act of 1994 were enacted with the objective of conserving and preserving trees, and preventing forest loss. However, using the route of compensatory afforestation, these laws have legitimised the loss of an average of 35,000 hectares of forests annually to development projects. Over ?400 billion has been collected as funds by systematically allowing for loss of forests and felling of old growth trees.
- In effect, forest and tree conservation laws have fuelled more ecological loss and destruction by relying on offsets like compensatory afforestation.
- Tree felling for urban development inspires opposing positions. Those who want development projects are convinced that trees are a necessary casualty for urban living, while conservationists and activists opposed to tree felling are accused of being anti-development.
- Extreme positions do not facilitate a search for solutions. India is hurtling towards urbanisation at breakneck speed. Indian cities are estimated to add 300 million new urban residents by 2050. To accommodate people at this scale, we have to build at scale. Sadly, the only land available in most cities is wooded land — urban forests, parks, tree-lined streets. Cutting trees is an inevitable sacrifice for development, according to the urban pragmatist.
- Typically, designs for redevelopment, road widening, or metro construction are developed by engineers with no background in ecology and with little interest in it. With coordination between municipal engineering and forest departments, and genuine public consultation, designs can be innovatively modified to save a number of trees. Widened roads can accommodate large trees in the median, and can be curved to accommodate a heritage tree at the corner or centre. Similarly, if metro planning was truly consultative, routes could be altered to spare old tree-lined boulevards and historic parks. The redevelopment of south Delhi could have been designed to save most of the existing trees, for example by building vertically. CA, when needed, must be done locally, using the right species. These species should be watered and protected to ensure long-term survival. Reducing the tree and sapling question to a yes and no debate between development pragmatists and environmental romantics is meant to misrepresent.
Q2. There is a growing lack of responsibility among our institutions toward child safety. Elucidate.
- Eight children go missing every hour in India to remain untraced and four are sexually abuse. Children in India are unsafe in homes, schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, shelter homes, or even inside the places of worship and faith institutions.
- Reports on incidents like the sale of a baby by the Missionaries of Charity home; the rape of minor girls by a self-styled godman in Delhi; and the rape of a nine-year-old girl by a Maulana in a madrassa, point out that many of these residential religious institutions allowed to run without stringent regulations and checks
- The government has information on 1.4 lakh missing children on one hand and on the other, has a database of three lakh children staying in state and NGO-run children’s homes, yet there is no effective of use simple technological solutions like facial recognition software to reunite missing children with their families. Further, the government is not taking initiatives to pass more stringent laws against child trafficking and child pornography
- Normally, public outrage in the case of many unfortunate incidents like those in Kathua, Unnao and Mandsaur has been selective and convenient. Nobody has questioned why an eight-year-old was grazing horses and not attending school as per constitutional right to education. Or how a school in Mandsaur could have been so unsafe for a little girl.
- No individual or institution ever takes moral responsibility for such a pathetic situation on child safety. There must be a culture of moral responsibility and accountability among our institutions, as opposed to the prevalent culture of superficial, convenient responses.