ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Incentivising Forest Protection

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Conservation pays”—a cliché alien to most people but not for a small group of women from Bohal in Palampur; they are getting paid `10,000 annually for protecting a patch of forest that constitutes the recharge zone of a spring-shed that supplies water to Palampur—an important, water-parched, industrial township in Himachal Pradesh. In the bargain, while the villagers get their share of spring water and quality fodder for their stall-fed cattle from the forest to boot, the Palampur township receives sustained supply of clean spring water. And the Palampur water supply department reaps a collateral benefit by saving thousands of rupees on filtration and pumping costs incurred in pumping silt-loaded water from a river.

But does the happy, win-win “forest-water-Bohal-Palampur” story end within the borders of Palampur? Not really. Forest ecosystem services like water supply, climate amelioration, and nutrition recycling are not straightaway apparent to most people, and they also do not realise that the benefits of forest ecosystem services extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of a well-conserved forest. The Bohal Women Group or even the local forest officials may not be aware that the forest they help to conserve acts as an important link in providing water security to thousands of people living in the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and even Delhi-National Capital Region.

Contrary to the myth that the Himalayan rivers depend only on glaciers for their water supply, springs from these forests contribute significantly to the discharge of these rivers that cater to the ever-growing water needs of the plains of North India. For the upper Indus basin, glacier melting may contribute up to 41% of the total run-off; in the upper Ganga basin, it is 13%; and in the upper Brahmaputra, it is 16% as per a study conducted by the Observer Research Foundation. It can safely be assumed that the rest of the river water comes from rainwater and base flow (spring water).

Agriculture in the floodplains contributes to 15%–20% of the gross domestic product of India, while the cost of pumping water amounts to almost 30%–40% of the cost of agricultural production; and river water plays a major role in reducing these avoidable costs. Add to this the economic benefits of hydroelectricity produced from the Himalayan rivers that depend upon the forest for their water supply, the economic and ecological importance of Himalayan forests cannot be overemphasised.

Yet, there is a highly misplaced perception that the Himalayan forests are not only an impediment to development but are also harmlessly and inconsequentially dispensable. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In reality, the Himalayan forests are the very life support system for millions of people of the northern half of the country. Therefore, preservation and protection of the Himalayan forests are not a luxury but a critical necessity on which the lives of millions of people depend upon.

However, the preservation and protection of Himalayan forests come with a deep dent in the developmental aspirations of the local people, while they are also the ones who have to bear the heavy cost of conservation. Is the nation willing to share this burden with them? The answer could be yes, provided they are shown the way.

One easy and obvious solution seems to be to compensate the hindrance to development by the payment of “green bonus.” However, the simple payment of “green bonus” without linking it to forest conservation may trigger a “development-verses-conservation” spiral that has the potential to result in rampant destruction and damage to forests.

Alternatively, the local people could be incentivised to protect forests by establishing a win-win symbiotic relationship for them with forest conservation through an incentive-based mechanism. Unlike the green bonus, an incentive-based mechanism does not try to compensate for the lost developmental opportunity but rewards people for conserving forests.

In conclusion, it is proposed that the Himalayan forests and the associated ecosystems should be seen as a national treasure, and the local people, who are the custodians of this treasure, must be incentivised to conserve it.

S S Rasaily

Dehradun

 

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Updated On : 11th Jun, 2022
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