Forest rights activists in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday said the Draft National Forest Policy, 2018 brought out by Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change lacks perspective.

“The draft policy is flawed and it fails to recognise the spirit of Forest Rights Act, 2006, which sought to address historical injustice inflicted on tribals and other forest dwellers through colonisation of forests,” the activists said, who have grouped into Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The Manch, which is struggling to help local communities secure their forest rights in HP, is one of the 150 signatories to the ministry, who have cited serious flaws in draft policy.

“The 2006 Act attempts to restore forests back to original custodians, caretakers and dependents and puts in place the democratic mechanisms to govern forests. But the draft policy allows the entry of private companies in forestry projects for commercial plantations. The industry will only work for profits,” said Akshay Jasrotia, Manch convener.

The Draft National Forest Policy, 2018 claims that there has been an increase in forest and tree cover over the last decades, and “reduction in the diversion of forest land for other land uses despite compelling demands from the increasing population, industrialisation and rapid economic growth.”

The Manch activists, however, said a look at the state of the Forest Report 2017 describes forest cover changes in the country and concludes that there is a 1 per cent increase in the forest cover.

There is no separate data for plantations and forests making it difficult to understand the actual extent of deforestation of natural forests, as well as the hidden diversion of forest land to industries.

“Many experts have pointed out that the reported increase in forest and tree cover does not necessarily include natural forests, but man made industrial or commercial monoculture plantations,” said Jasrotia.

The draft policy comes close to the heels of another legislation called Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAMPA) which has created an institutional mechanism for the utilisation of funds realised in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose (development projects).

The objective is to mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land for dams, mines, industries and such projects.

However, the activists said, the Act does not put in any safeguard for say of communities in utilisation of funds for activities on forest land by the forest department, which is in contravention to FRA 2006. In HP where close to 70 per cent of the geographical area is technically under forest land, the implementation of FRA has been poor.

“The people dependent on forests are already suffering. The moves like CAMPA and 2018 forest policy will further alienate people from forests and lead to conflict, as the forest department and private corporations take on plantation drives in forests, on which people are dependent,” observed Manshi Asher from Himdhara Collective, also a signatory to submissions, rejecting the draft.