National Mission for a Green India (GIM) is one of the eight missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change i.e. our plan to adapt to the impact of the changes in climate and also to reduce the pace of climate change (global warming in simple terms). As world grows warmer the species shall migrate to northern (cooler) latitudes and higher altitudes. There shall be an increase in forest fires, pests, diseases, invasive species (weeds) and loss in biodiversity. The mission aims at ‘greening’ of the country with emphasis on restoration of degraded eco-systems by encouraging native bio-diverse species. Local communities that are dependent on the forests for their livelihoods shall be involved in the management and their traditional knowledge of ecology shall be blended with modern techniques of forestry.
Forests act as ‘carbon-dioxide sinks’ and by reducing green house gases help keep the planet cool. Forests provide the organic mass for maintaining the fertility and water-retention capacity of soil and are vital for agriculture especially in heavy rainfall areas. They also provide food products to all forms of life that reside in the ecosystems formed by them. Forests provide fuel-wood, fodder, small timber, NTFP and medicinal plants, and artisanal raw material like canes and bamboo to the local populations dependent on them for livelihood.
Forest ecosystems are the source of a large number of rivers and rivulets and play an important, though not completely understood, role in maintaining the hydrological cycle. They help maintain the flow of water in rivers, the levels of sub-soil water and in recharging of aquifers. The rivers/rivulets having forested catchment areas have a more stable flow of better quality water. The 1000 hectare dense forest that forms the catchment area for the springs and streams that provide water to Shimla town was planted by the British in the early 20th century. Likewise, the forest cover in the catchment area of Nainital Lake was also the result of British foresight and industry.
The strategy for greening shall be the restoration of degraded open forests, grasslands, scrublands, wetlands, ravines, mangroves and other ecosystems. Urban spaces and parks, institutional lands, abandoned mining areas etc shall also be targeted. The overall target is to improve the green cover over 10 million hectares of land in 10 years (12th and 13th Five Year Plan period, 2012-13 to 2022-23). Indigenous, bio-diverse, fast growing species shall be encouraged over monoculture plantations that are vulnerable to pests and disease. Native palatable grasses and shrubs for fodder and nitrogen fixing legumes shall be seeded. Rotational/controlled grazing, fire management, pest control, invasive species eradication and controlling water run-off through check dams and contour trenches/terraces are the other key interventions.
The mission document makes a special mention of sea-buckthorn or the ‘Leh’ berry. The thorny shrub yields berries with high nutritional value (Vitamin C content is 15 times that of oranges) and can withstand extreme temperatures and drought. The shrub is being encouraged all over the Himalayas and the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research, Leh is the nodal agency for research and other support in this area. Bamboos, vetiver, asparagus, giloy, guggal, acacia etc also find mention. Support for the forest areas/ecosystems (Sacred Groves) conserved by communities (e.g. the Bishnois of Rajasthan) for religious and other reasons is also envisaged.
The mission aims at involving the community through a variety of institutions including panchayats, gram sabhas, joint forest management committees, self-help groups as well as through employment of educated local youths as community foresters. NGOs, schools, colleges, NCC, NSS etc shall be involved for community mobilization. The mission will be administered through an autonomous society created under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), Government of India. The tentative cost is Rs. 46,000/- crores with Rs. 34,000/- crore for core activity and Rs. 12,000/- crores for support activities (capacity building, research, publicity etc). The mission is in its preparatory phase and the 50 page ‘Mission Document’ has been made available to the country on the MOEF website http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/GIM-Report-PMCCC.pdf for inviting suggestions.
Morni forests cover the fragile outer Shivalik hills and are exposed to landslides during monsoons and fires during summers. The lantana bush has wiped out all indigenous grass and shrub cover and fodder availability has declined sharply in the recent times. The bush has a shallow root system that is unable to bind soil and leads to landslides during the monsoon season. The bush forms dry thickets of scrub during summers and cause devastating forest fires. The fires destroy smaller wildlife living under the scrub including hares, foxes, pheasants, jungle fowls, partridges, francolins and monitor lizards. Poor moisture retention leads to early drying up of springs and ‘baolies’ and a drinking water crisis in most of the hamlets. Lantana bush is poisonous for the cattle and goats that may graze on it. The lantana berries, however, support the numerous bulbuls and bush birds that feed on them. The lantana flowers draw a variety of butterflies. Manual removal of lantana by the villagers under NREGA scheme has been suggested by the locals but the idea is yet to find support. Green India Mission may provide the necessary framework for this urgently needed intervention to restore the ecology and bio-diversity to the region. A recent positive development has been the use of Lantana stem in place of cane and bamboo for making baskets, furniture etc. Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE- http://www.atree.org/) , a Bangalore based NGO, has done pioneering work in this area and has established Lantana Crafts Centres for training tribal forest dwellers to produce items from lantana stems. ATREE holds annual Lantana Crafts Mela at the MM Hills of Karnataka and the venture has received support from Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India limited (TRIFED) and NABARD. Introduction of such handicrafts in the Morni region can help locals augment their incomes and also provide the means to control the spread of lantana.
Stone dangahs/bunds and breast walls and drains are also needed in certain fragile areas that experience frequent landslides. Vetiver can be introduced to stabilize slopes that are experiencing heavy erosion due to rain water run-off. Urgent works are needed to undo extensive damage following unprecedented rains in 2010.
The forest fire-fighting capabilities also need serious augmentation.