Monday, February 7, 2022

Forest restoration: challenges and opportunities for India


  • In the UN decade on Ecosystem Restoration, afforestation that does not consider local factors and faulty planting in landscapes like savannahs which causes loss to local biodiversity, are being replaced with better forest restoration techniques.
  • Identification and availability of area, lack of research with suitable strategies, conflict of interest among stakeholders, poverty and financing are some of the challenges in forest restoration for India, but there also exist opportunities to meet many global targets.
  • Forest-dependent communities, as the most important and influential stakeholders, must be included in decision-making. Their concerns must be addressed, and incentives must be offered.
  • The views in this commentary are that of the author.

Forest restoration is the act of bringing back a forest or landscape which has been degraded or damaged by anthropogenic exploitation or natural factors, to its original state. Forest restoration not only facilitates the recovery of degraded forests and their various functions, but is also considered as one of the best solutions to contribute to sustainable development by restoring the ecological, economic and social functions and values of the forests.

The continued decline of global forests by 3% between 1990 and 2015 as per the reports of FAO (2018) has also necessitated the need for increased forest protection and restoration. The trend of adopting tree planting as a suitable strategy to fight global warming owing to their ability to sequester carbon, thereby slowing climate change, is being challenged by alternate postulations, as in many instances planting without considering local factors and ecology may lead to negative consequences and more damages to ecosystems than the intended benefits. Similarly, faulty planting like planting in grasslands like savannahs may be disastrous, causing loss of local biodiversity and their survival.

study from 2020 that mapped the carbon accumulation potential from global natural forest regrowth, stated that naturally regenerated forests tend to have nearly 32% more carbon storage. These findings have led to a favourable tilt in the conservation story, with more emphasis on forest restoration than tree planting. In this decade (2021-2030) on Ecosystem Restoration as designated by the UN, it is essential to employ new techniques of forest restoration. Restoration is now widely accepted, and its features such as cost-effectiveness and the ability to conserve more biodiversity make it a more suitable intervention than tree planting. It is slowly gaining popularity among people and the governments.

Transitioning from Afforestation to forest restoration

Joining the Bonn challenge in 2015 with a pledge to restore 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, India later revised its restoration target to 26 million hectares by 2030. Since 2011, India has also brought an area of 9.8 million hectares under restoration.  However, as per a report from World Resources Institute (WRI), India has nearly 140 million hectares of potential for forest protection and landscape restoration that can sequester 3 to 4.3 billion tons of above-ground carbon by 2040. Considering the multiple benefits of the restoration approach including enhanced biodiversity, ecosystem services and livelihood needs of people, serious deliberations are on the cards for a transition from afforestation to ecological restoration.

The thrust of the Indian Government so far,  has mainly been around various afforestation and reforestation programmes like Compensatory Afforestation and more recently the revamped National Mission on Green India in addition to certain project-specific programmes like Project Tiger and Fire Management. This is in addition to various state-sponsored programmes like ‘Telangana Ku Haritha Haram’ of Telangana.

The most significant reason, causing the continued degradation of forests in India is grazing. It affects more than 75% of forest area, shifting cultivation and encroachment over 10 m ha of forest area. This dependency and complexity of livelihoods linked with forests has not only affected the progress of various afforestation programmes but also continues to pose serious challenges for the future growth of forests including their restoration.

As a revised and upgraded version of forest restoration, Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR) is a mechanism that demands to bring together the people or communities falling under a designated landscape to identify, negotiate and implement the mutually agreed interventions for the betterment of the area. The inclusion of landscape concept is more relevant and essential for developing countries like India where we have millions of people depending on forests for their livelihood.

Challenges in forest restoration

Many challenges need to be suitably examined and studied to attain restoration targets. Identification and availability of area is one of the major challenges. In India, 41% of forests are already degraded as per the National Forest Commission report from 2006. The open forests of the country with a density between 10%  and 40% have been increased from  2,49,930 sq. km (1991) to 3,07,120 sq. km (2021). There are no definite guidelines or scientifically established norms regarding the selection of areas for restoration. The availability of open forests and other categories like scrub forests are again subject to their suitability and other parameters. The lack of scientific benchmarks for the selection of degraded forests under various Agro-climatic zones makes this task of area identification, tough.

Secondly, India is home to 10 major types of forests which are being managed under varied management and silviculture practices with extremities of climatic factors. Nearly 5.03% of its geographical areas are protected areas (PA) with an entirely different system of management. Until recently, the major thrust in Indian forestry has been towards raising trees for revenue or production forestry under various silvicultural systems with more emphasis on tree planting as one of the restoration methods. Though there is a lot of research done on restoration ecology, many of these findings and recommendations are not fully suitable for India’s diverse habitats and more specifically to altered ecosystems with specific local challenges. Hence, local research especially those relating to natural regeneration of various species including ecological aspects can act as a guiding tool for formulating area-specific restoration approaches and methodologies.

Another obstacle is the conflict of interest among stakeholders. There are many stakeholders involved in executing restoration interventions ranging from villagers to community leaders to government/non-government members to people with social or political interests. For example, a villager may be more interested in his/her livelihood goals; the community leader may favour the equitable sharing of produce and similarly; the government may aim to accord priority to the protection of area for environmental conservation. Negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders for resolving conflicts are therefore a must and a challenging feat to reach a suitable trade-off.

is another concern in restoration projects. In countries like India, where there are huge dependencies on forests for various purposes, there is a need for adequate funds not only for the engagement of stakeholders and restoration activities but also for costs of foregoing their livelihood activities like grazing, unsustainable minor forest produce (MFP) collection, etc. Failure to address these issues may lead to lacklustre participation of people and may even hamper the success of the restoration initiatives. Further, high costs of restoration pose a big challenge for scaling up and also may likely cause indifference due to lack of interest among policymakers over some time. There is a need to involve non-governmental organisations including corporations and philanthropists to augment the efforts of the government. The recent initiative of Telangana in creating a Green Fund for tree planting activities needs to be replicated in other states.

Ecological degradation and poverty are reciprocal. Out of the 21.9% population living under the poverty line, nearly 275 million people depend on the forest for subsistence. Poverty is linked with the degradation of forests due to this dependence. 

Lastly, the concept and functioning of forest restoration is a complex and new approach that needs to be understood effectively not only by the government agencies but also by other people associated with it.

Opportunities to meet global targets 

The restoration approach with a focus on forest restoration and biodiversity conservation provides an excellent opportunity to meet various targets and commitments of India, under various platforms. Be it the restoration of 26 MHA lands under the Bonn Challenge or an increase of forest cover over 5 MHA duly improving another 5 million hectares of forest/non-forest lands under the Green India Mission or various land-based activities under agro-forestry or for biofuel purposes, effective strategies on restoration can help achieve these objectives, and also provide enormous opportunities for livelihood enhancement and socio-economic welfare of the rural population.

Apart from the ongoing programmes for afforestation, many land-based programmes can be integrated to address the funding challenges of considerably. Programmes like MNREGA, Highway Plantations, Biodiversity Plans and funds from the state governments including municipalities and panchayats can be effectively integrated to tackle the restoration activities both inside and outside the reserved forest areas in an inclusive manner. Also, the ongoing mandate of spending 2% of the average net profit of all companies towards CSR activities resulted in 24,689 crore rupees during 2019-20 and a considerable part of this amount can be utilised for various restoration interventions.

In the Indian context, the deep-rooted inequalities and challenges relating to land rights, land tenure and land use planning have a direct bearing on the success of the restoration. The various legal provisions relating to these issues under existing acts like FRA, PESA, etc. seek for a comprehensive, inclusive approach duly providing the much-needed redressal mechanism for these challenges.

Forest restoration has become one of the most favoured channels to mitigate the challenges of climate change and a key instrument to achieve the net-zero target. The country needs to reinforce its priority and bring much-needed policy changes, adequate finances with an integrated and inclusive approach in the forefront, duly involving multiple stakeholders including state governments.

Because involving people is crucial for the success of any restoration intervention,  proactive policy decisions like those in Telangana can provide much needed public support and the required platform for their participation in the programme. The forest-dependent communities, being the major and decisive stakeholders, need to be given importance not only by redressing their core issues but also by providing them incentives and rewards for their contribution to ameliorating the degraded landscapes of the country.

This article also appeared in Mongabay dated 2nd February 2022


The baton of forest restoration in the net zero race

 For carbon sequestration, India must revisit its policy framework and reverse fading participation of local communities

India’s pledge to set a net zero target by 2070, at the COP26 summit, Glasgow, has again highlighted the importance of forests as an undisputed mechanism to help mitigate the challenges of climate change. Though, in more specific terms, this was already highlighted during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) framework (2013) of REDD+ for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, along with the ‘sustainable management of forests for the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks’. In a study by Griscom (2017), land-based sinks (natural climate solutions which also include forests) can provide up to 37% of emission reduction and help in keeping the global temperature below 2° C. Further, recent research has favoured a natural regeneration model of restoration over the existing much-hyped mode of tree planting as such forests are said to secure nearly 32% carbon storage, as per one report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Continued degradation

Though India is said to have increased its forest cover by 15,000 square kilometres in the last six years, the degradation of existing forests continues. As per the State of Forests Report (1989), the country had 2,57,409 (7.83% of its geographical area) under the open forest category, having a density of 10% to less than 40%. However, in 30 years (2019) this has been increased to 3,04,499 (9.26%). This means every year on average, nearly 1.57 lakh hectare of forests was degraded. This degradation highlights the presence of anthropogenic pressures including encroachment, grazing, fire, which our forests are subjected to. Having diverted nearly 1.5 million hectares of forests since 1980 for developmental activities and losing nearly 1.48 million hectares of forests to encroachers coupled with an intricate link between poverty and unemployment, India is witnessing enormous degradation of forests and deforestation. This warrants the participation of people as an essential and effective route to achieve the desired target of carbon sequestration through the restoration of forests.

Terms of engagement

In a historic departure from pursuing commercial objectives to supporting the needs of people in a participatory manner (as envisaged in National Forest Policy, 1988), India made its attempt, in 1990, to engage local communities in a partnership mode while protecting and managing forests and restoring wastelands with the concept of care and share. This concept of joint forest management spelt much hope for States and forest-fringe communities. Later, the concept of forest development agencies was introduced to consolidate the efforts in an autonomous model, which paved the way for fund flow from various other sources to joint forest management committees. The efforts to make this participatory approach operative resulted in the formation of nearly 1.18 lakh joint forest management committees managing over 25 million hectares of forest area. Most of these became active and operative while implementing various projects financed by external agencies such as the World Bank, the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) Japan, the Department for International Development (DFID) United Kingdom and the European Union (EU). The similar system of joint management in the case of national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves which existed in the name of eco-development committees initially proved effective as it could garner the support of these participating communities not only for the protection and development of biodiversity but also in the considerable reduction in man-animal conflicts and the protection of forests from fires and grazing.

However, the completion of the project period and lack of subsequent funding affected their functionality and also the protection of forests due to a lack of support from participating local communities including associated non-governmental organisations.

Except for the National Mission for Green India, in all other centrally sponsored programmes such as Project Tiger, fire management, Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH) including the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), the lack of priority and policy support to ensure the participation of local communities via the institutions of joint forest management committees slowly made their participation customary. This caused a gradual decline in their effectiveness.

Changed role now

The role of local institutions of gram panchayat or joint forest management committees is now restricted to be a consultative institution instead of being partners in planning and implementation. This indifference and alienation from the participatory planning and implementation of various schemes further affects the harmony between Forest Departments and communities, endangering the protection of forests. This is more relevant while taking up restoration activities including tree planting outside the designated forest areas where motivation and encouragement of stakeholders (especially panchayats and urban local bodies) are crucial.

As committed at Glasgow, India will have to ‘focus much more on climate change and devise strategies and programmes to achieve the net zero target’. Besides reducing the quantum of emissions in a phased manner — itself full of challenges — the approaches for carbon storage and offsetting through natural sinks such as forests need to be given equal priority.

Replicate Telangana model

To achieve net zero targets there is a need to revisit our existing legal and policy mechanisms, incentivise the local communities appropriately and ensure fund flow for restoration interventions, duly providing for the adequate participation of local people in planning and implementation through local institutions. Political priority and appropriate policy interventions (as done recently in Telangana by amending the panchayat and municipal acts for environmental concerns and creating a provision for a Green Fund, or Telangana Haritha Nidhi, for tree planting and related activities) need replication in other States. These should be supported by enabling financial and institutional support mechanisms and negotiations with stakeholders to incentivise local communities to boost efforts to conserve and develop forest resources. Though India did not become a signatory of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, the considerations of land tenure and the forest rights of participatory communities with accelerated finances will help aid steps in the race toward net zero. This inclusive approach with political prioritisation will not only help reduce emissions but also help to conserve and increase ‘our forest cover’ to ‘a third of our total area’. It will also protect our once rich and precious biological diversity.

This article appeared in the Hindu dated 8th January 2022

Taproots to help restore India’s fading green cover

 In forest restoration, the participation of local communities and adequate financing and incentives are essential

Covering nearly 30% land surface of the earth, forests around the globe provide a wide variety of ecosystem services and support countless and diverse species. They also stabilise the climate, sequester carbon and regulate the water regime. The State of the World’s Forests report 2020, says that since 1990, around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation, conversion and land degradation. Nearly 178 million hectares have decreased globally due to deforestation (1990-2020). India lost 4.69 MHA of its forests for various land uses between 1951 to 1995.

Despite various international conventions and national policies in place to improve green cover, there is a decline in global forest cover. This is the prime reason for forest restoration activities including tree planting to become increasingly popular and declaring 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration for improving environmental conditions and enhancing human communities.

Restoration in laymen’s terms is bringing back the degraded or deforested landscape to its original state by various interventions to enable them to deliver all the benefits. Building and maintaining activities help to improve ecological functions, productivity and create resilient forests with multifarious capabilities. India’s varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions are spread over 10 bio-geographical regions and four biodiversity hotspots, sheltering 8% of the world’s known flora and fauna.

However, dependence on forests by nearly 18% of the global human population has put immense pressure on ecosystems; in India, this has resulted in the degradation of 41% of its forests. To combat this, India joined the Bonn Challenge with a pledge to restore 21 MHA of degraded and deforested land which was later revised to 26 MHA to be restored by 2030. The first-ever country progress report under the Bonn Challenge submitted by India by bringing 9.8 million hectares since 2011 under restoration is an achievement. However, continued degradation and deforestation need to be tackled effectively to achieve the remaining target of restoration by addressing various challenges.

Key challenges

Local ecology with a research base: forest restoration and tree planting are leading strategies to fight global warming by way of carbon sequestration. However, planting without considering the local ecology can result in more damage. Similarly, planting a forest in the wrong places such as savannah grasslands could be disastrous for local biodiversity. Luckily recent research has shown that naturally regenerated forests tend to have more secure carbon storage. Being less tech-sensitive, cost-effective and conserving more biodiversity, natural forest restoration is becoming more widely accepted. However, it is fundamental to consider the local ecology before implementing any restoration efforts to retain their biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

Restoration, being a scientific activity, needs research support for its success. Whether one goes for active restoration which includes planting or passive restoration with more focus on halting environmental stressors or adopting an intermediate approach of aided natural regeneration, it needs critical examination before putting restoration interventions into practice.

Situation in India

Nearly 5.03% of Indian forests are under protection area (PA) management needing specific restoration strategies. The remaining areas witness a range of disturbances including grazing, encroachment, fire, and climate change impacts that need area-specific considerations. Further, much of the research done so far on restoration is not fully compatible with India’s diverse ecological habitats hence warranting due consideration of local factors. So, the relevance of local research duly considering ecological aspects, local disturbances and forest-dependent communities is vital to formulate guidelines for locally suitable interventions and to meet India’s global commitment.

Though India’s increasing economic growth is helping to eliminate poverty, there is continued degradation and a growing scarcity of natural resources. The intricate link between poverty and environmental degradation was first highlighted by India at the first UN global conference on the human environment in Stockholm. Out of its 21.9% population living under the poverty line, nearly 275 million people including local tribals depend on the forest for subsistence.

Fundamental to the strategy

Further, encroachment of nearly 1.48 MHA of forest and grazing in nearly 75% of forest area is also linked to the livelihood of local communities. Linked with the degradation of forests, this dependency, along with various social-political and economic factors, complicates the issue manifold. The participation of local communities with finances for incentives and rewards is essential to redress this complex riddle.

There have been remarkable initiatives to involve local people in the protection and development of forests by forming joint forest management committees (JFMC). More than 1,18,213 JFMCs involving around 20 million people manage over 25 MHA of forest area.

However, a review of their functionality and performance is essential to make them more dynamic and effective to scale up their involvement.

Therefore, negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders including these committees for resolving conflicts and fulfilling restoration objectives are a must and a challenging feat to reach a suitable trade-off.

Adequate financing is one of the major concerns for the success of any interventions including restoration. The active approach of restoration which includes tree planting and the involvement of communities seeks incentives and rewards and make the whole affair quite cost-intensive. The contribution of corporates in restoration efforts so far has been limited to 2% of the total achievement. Hence, alternate ways of financing such as involving corporates and dovetailing restoration activities with ongoing land-based programmes of various departments can help to make it easy for operation.

Apart from these specific challenges, the common barriers to restoration as identified globally also need critical review before placing the

required methodologies and area-specific strategies in place. The involvement of multiple stakeholders in forest restoration is bound to cause a conflict of interests among different stakeholders; along with low priority and insufficient funding, it becomes even more challenging.

Active engagement of stakeholders including non-governmental organisations, awareness and capacity building of stakeholders with enabling policy interventions and finance can help a lot to achieve the remaining 16 MHA restoration objectives for India. The need of the hour is an inclusive approach encompassing these concerns with the required wherewithal

This article appeared in the Hindu dated 5th October 2021

Plantation Is An Art & Science, Much More Than Branding & Records


‘When you plant a tree, you plant a legacy’, noted journalist Pepper Provenzano has said once. 

Trees, being the most essential for the life of not only human beings but all the living creatures of this planet, also act as an important link between the past, present and future. The existence of species including humans is not possible without plants hence they are the lifeline and base for the survival of man.

Tree planting is undoubtedly one of the best and cheapest ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere besides supporting and sustaining biodiversity and controlling other climate change-induced repercussions thereby having the mind-blowing potential to tackle the climate crisis and environmental challenges and disasters.

Of late there have been launching massive tree-planting projects across the globe driven by political or environmental conscientiousness with impressive numbers running into millions and billions. Be it the Bonn Challenge (2011) to commit to restoring 150 MHA of degraded forests or Billion Tree Tsunami (2014) of Pakistan or China’s Great Green Wall to tackle 35 million hectares or Ethiopia’s planting of 350 million saplings or recent One Trillion Tree project of the World Economic Forum (WEF), tree planting is being chosen as the best natural climate solution to capture carbon and tackle the climate crisis.

Despite this magnificent role being played by the trees in mitigating environmental challenges, one needs to tread cautiously as any omission in the selection of place or species without considering local factors and ecology may lead to negative consequences and more damages to ecosystems than the intended benefits.

The best example of this is planting seedlings in grassland like Savannas which may be disastrous causing loss of biodiversity and extinction of typical residents like the Great Indian bustard, blackbucks, giraffe, etc.

“Records” of plantations turned futile  

With the planting targets running into billions across the globe and even creating a world record like one made by Turkey (2019) for the most trees planted (303,150) in one hour and another one made by Ken Chaplin (Canada) in 2001 for planting the most number of trees 15,170 red pine in one day by the individual, many of such projects have failed to meet the anticipated objectives of tree planting projects or have been partially successful even after spending millions of dollars. 

There have been reports of failure of these drives due to various reasons like being planted “not by experts” and “at the wrong time” as witnessed in Turkey during 2019 with nearly 90 % mortality. 

One section of people even considers launching such planting drives as a means to rebrand themselves or divert the public attention from pressing environmental issues. Even the prestigious tree planting program of China was beset by problems due to poor planning, unrealistic demands, and a poor understanding of tree planting. Had these projects achieved their targets, we would have improved the forest cover significantly but unfortunately, this is not the scene. 


As any plants, especially forestry species take a long time to grow with continued post-planting care, the usual Plant and grow approach of the majority of such drives without ensuring resources and mechanism for post-planting care results in failure. 

The thorough analysis of objectives, planning, implementation, stakeholders' role, involvement of communities, and continuity of maintenance and monitoring are crucial factors that need critical analysis before launching any tree planting drive and making it successful. 

Crucial Factors 

Tree planting is an art and science that attempts to replicate the capacity of nature to respond and react to existing conditions. Any attempt with a lackadaisical attitude and failure to take the required step is bound to get reflected in the success of tree planting. 

A study conducted by Dr. Kate Hardwick of Royal Botanical Garden Kew stated that planting the wrong trees in the wrong place one will do more harm than good. The umpteen combinations of scientific factors, soils, climate, local terrain coupled with social, economic, and administrative factors play a decisive role in the success of tree planting.

So one must examine and consider these factors carefully before launching a tree-planting project.

1.Choice of species

Selecting the right species based on the local need (aesthetics or landscape or conservation or fruit-bearing for livelihood) and suitability to local site conditions is the most desired aspect for the quick success of plantation and the betterment of biodiversity conservation. In case of involvement of communities or other stakeholders, their consent should be given due consideration to the extent possible for better post-planting care and survival.

2.Planting location or site

The selection of an appropriate site for planting depends upon various factors like purpose of planting, soils, drainage, moisture, etc. It’s better to check and confirm whether the species you have decided to plant suits the proposed location or not?

3.Pre-planting activities

Another very crucial factor (also sometimes called land preparation in forestry terms) involves executing a series of operations that are essential to make the area suitable for tree planting in all aspects. The list of activities includes site selection, arranging men and machines, timely availability of finance, preparation of soil and digging pits, etc. 

 Figure: 1


4. Quality seedling (As you sow, so you reap):

Productivity and survival of plantations are related to the quality of seedlings used which outperform the poor quality seedlings in all aspects. The features like good height, well-developed root system, well-grown collar, good foliage etc. are few traits apart from the genetic material of a quality seedling.

5. Timing

Whether it's fall or spring, there are different opinions with their supportive reasons, the role of timely planting is very crucial for the establishment of trees. 

The fall planting facilitates utilization of less watering, cool temperature and short bright days making it more attractive than the spring planting where we have the entire growing season for the establishment of the plant. 

The south Asian countries however prefer June or July for their planting which coincides with the onset of monsoon and helps plants in a quick establishment. Whatever time is chosen, the key to success is to stick to that planting time to get the most of the prevailing season and conditions for a quality result.

6. Method

A much technical aspect that requires more professional guidance to take care of things like the size of the pit, time of digging pit, method of planting, refilling of soil, stakes, etc the technique also needs equal attention.

7. External factors

Once you have planted the seedling there are many external factors including environmental factors like light, weather, soil type, water, humidity, etc. which equally influence the growth of plants if not attended to with sincerity. Issues of consultation of local communities with due regards to their customary rights and management regimes also become very relevant for the success of tree planting involving huge numbers and people.

8.Protection of plants

Protection of plants is more relevant where the mass scale planting is undertaken. The man-made reasons like deliberate damage or damage due to negligence and also by the animals in the form of grazing and browsing if not taken care of with suitable measures cause irreparable damage to growing plants. Protection from natural factors like frost, fire, etc also warrants equal attention for suitable protection.

9. Post-planting care

The maintenance of plants like watering, mulching, grooming (tending), soil-improving measures, weed removal, application of fertilizers, etc plays a considerable role in the growth of plants.

The above list is not exhaustive as there are other factors like availability of funds, involvement of communities/stakeholders, the attitude of people involved, proper monitoring and supervision, etc, and many more which may be area-specific hence demand attention accordingly. 

However, for the above factors in one survey conducted with the staff of Telangana Forest Department India, where the participants were asked to accord weightage on a scale of 0-10 to above important factors, factors like quality seedlings, choice of species, protection of plants and time of planting got more than 50% weightage thereby indicating them to be most influential for the success of any tree planting drive. 

This article was also appeared dated 5th June 2021

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

TS govt adopting innovative, inclusive green practices

The recent devastating spread of pandemics coupled with biodiversity loss and climate change has reminded mankind to introspect its broken linkages with nature. The physical and mental well-being and capacity to counter the climate change challenges is therefore closely associated with the health of nature

As per the 2011 census, though the urban population of Telangana is 1.36 crore (38.9 per cent) it has grown by 38.12 per cent in comparison to the rural population growth of 2.13 per cent indicating the prevalence of very high rural-to-urban migration. An increase in the number of panchayats in the state from 8846 (2014) to 12768 (2021) is also testimony to this rapid pace of urbanisation. Coupled with burgeoning needs of development and individual greed, this has same time resulted in depletion and degradation of natural resources like tree cover, water bodies, community land etc at a greater pace.

For a civilised society, protecting nature either by preventing it from being destroyed or by way of bringing it back to cities and towns is the need of the hour for overall sustainability. This has necessitated the need of exploring various mechanisms to manage existing nature and also to replenish the damaged environmental resources.

As climate change is one of the major drivers of degradation of natural resources, environmentalists and foresters advocate tree planting as well as rejuvenation approaches as low-cost, easy to adopt and a high-impact intervention to restore nature and rejuvenate degraded forests and biodiversity and sequester carbon as well.

Acknowledging the multifarious role of environmental conservation including the green cover, Telangana Government launched Telangana Ku Haritha Haram (Green Garland to Telangana) in 2015 as one of the flagship programmes. The main object of the programme was bringing green cover from 24 per cent to 33 per cent duly formulating strategies to tackle the challenges of environmental conservation and protection with the participation of all active stakeholders.

As creating green space outside notified forest area warrants active participation of people for the success of environmental conservation, an enabling environment was created by the state of Telangana for the first time by bringing historic amendments to existing Panchayat and Municipal acts. These policy changes ensured active roles and responsibilities among panchayats and municipalities for planting and protection of trees, their survival (85 per cent) and provision for the green fund thus reflecting strong political will with care and concern for the much-neglected sector of the environment.

The recently adopted approach of integrated development of villages and urban areas of the state under the banner of Palle Pragathi (Village Development ) and Pattana Pragathi (Town Development ) respectively now has become an excellent platform to fulfil the much-needed demand of environmental conservation including tree planting as one of the major components.

The core concept behind this inclusive approach of Palle Pragathi and Pattana Pragathi is to take up the developmental activities in the areas of health, sanitation, waste management, energy conservation, community infrastructure, environmental conservation including tree planting and environmental awareness duly involving all stakeholders for effective participation.

To increase green cover in all 12769  gram panchayats of the state, mini-park–cum-forests (Prukriti Vanams) are being developed in each village depending upon the availability of lands to ensure the green cover availability for villagers. Besides planting trees in blanks lands various institutions like schools, colleges, government offices, houses of individuals including agricultural lands are being taken up for planting.

Adding more strength to the ongoing mission of increasing greenery in villages, the government has recently decided to develop Bruhat Palle Prikriti Vanam (BPPV) in all the 540 mandals of the state. Spreading over nearly 10 acres of land, the major activity under Brihad Palle Prukriti Vanam is to take up tree planting under Yadadri Model (Modified Miyawaki method).

One of the major environmental concerns in the urbanized world is the degraded environmental conditions affecting the health and psychological well being of citizens which are getting impaired day by day. To meet this challenge of degrading the environment, the Government has identified 109 locations across the state for developing urban parks covering 30377 hectares.

Fulfilling the long term goals of climate resilience and ecosystem services to citizens, 53 urban parks are completed and opened for the public. The remaining 56 urban parks are getting much focus for their development and priority under the ongoing “Pattana Pragathi” programme. Ultimately with these interventions, these urban parks are turning into excellent nature-based solutions for counteracting the challenges of climate change and other benefits to the citizen. The participation of active stakeholders under the Pattana Pragathi is helping to bring much-needed resiliency and sustainability to our cities.

The specific approaches and interventions of the government are generating opportunities for the urban and village communities not only to develop green spaces but also to protect and maintain the natural environment of the local area. Further various initiatives in the area of health, sanitation and employment generation under integrated manner are helping the communities to connect with nature and assisting them to fulfill a range of social, psychological, economic and environmental benefits.

The innovative and inclusive approaches of Palle Pragathi and Pattana Pragathi are bringing the development and the environment together to ensure a balanced and sustainable model of village and urban development which is worth emulating the model of development of the Telangana government. It is expected that this model of partnership with people will usher in a new era of equitable socio-economic development with environmental conservation for the benefits of all including posterity.

This article was appeared in The Hans India dated 11th July 2021 at the following link