ECONOMIC STABILITY DEPENDS ON ECOLOGICAL STABILITY - 11th March 2012

Edited from article by Vijay Pinarkar

Even as union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee readies to present economic vision of India in 2012-13 general budget, various informed groups and individuals are warning that 'economic stability cannot be achieved without ecological sustainability'.

"If short-term economic gains are not replaced by a longer-term ecological and economic vision, India will probably end up as an economic basket case because our large population cannot be sustained for more than a year or two if the mismanagement of our natural resources continues at a fast pace in this era of climate change," said Bittu Saghal, noted environmentalist and editor of Sanctuary Asia, India's environmental news magazine.
Sahgal said, "The first thing I would like to see in budget 2012-13 is some sign that our government recognizes climate change as a serious threat to our survival. In the years ahead, perhaps around 25% of our national budget will have to be invested in countering climate change and the sooner we start walking this path the better."

"The finance minister must recognize that India's economy is sitting on a bedrock of ecological stability. Digging cheap coal or bauxite out from under natural forests may help window dress his budget, but it amounts to selling India's family ecological 'silver'. The loss of ecosystems will drive our people into penury," Sahgal said.

Satpuda Foundation chief Kishor Rithe says it is to be seen how much importance the government gives to wildlife and forests. Giving more grants for joint forest management committees (JMFCs) and eco-development committees would only imply rural development through wildlife and forests. Hence, government should not discriminate when it comes to allocation of funds.
Even as the state forest department received Rs 408 crore under various heads in 2011-12, the amount is less if the norm of 2.5% allocation for forestry of total state budget is concerned. The forest department budget has increased four times in the last six years from 0.37% to 1%. Considering the threat perceptions, the budget for forest and wildlife needs to be doubled.

Rithe says government enhanced the relocation package to Rs 10 lakh per family, but where is the money? Proposals worth Rs 200 crore to relocate villages are pending with the Centre. "Nationally, minimum Rs 5,000 crore is needed to relocate 760 villages in core areas," he added.

Prafulla Bhamburkar, manager of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), feels last year's budget revealed some good decisions such as 'Green Mission'. However, environmental problems are mainly related to forests which are being degraded or disappearing from the Indian land-banks. "Even JFM and EDC policies are not effective to save forest and wildlife. Tremendous illegal collection of fuelwood, illicit timber cutting, bamboo extraction, fire and poaching for easy money are responsible for habitat loss," said Bhamburkar.

Debi Goenka, of Mumbai's Conservation Action Trust (CAT), agrees with this view. " More funds are required for equipment for forest guards and foresters who actually protect the forests."
"I think it is time that provisions are made for starting a separate wildlife cadre - may be the Indian Wildlife Service. This would bring in wildlife trained officers to the protected area (PA) network and prove to be a big step ahead as many PAs are tottering due to untrained managers at the helm. Considering the large number of posts lying vacant in the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), the government should extend some special incentive/allowance to make WCCB posting attractive to officers," said Nitin Desai, director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), Central India.

Harshawardhan Dhanwatey, president of Tiger Research and Conservation Trust (TRACT), says, "Most of our rivers originate in forests. If the forests are degraded, one can imagine what will happen. Hence, government should consider it to be an important sector when it comes to allocation of funds."

Recommendations:
* More funds to relocate villages in core areas
* A separate wildlife cadre
* Boost for eco-development committees
* More focus on carbon credits and climate change
* More funds for tigers in non-protected areas
* Provision for secret funds for intelligence gathering
* Harness renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels
* Cut taxes on green equipment

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