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These ‘Eco-Positive’ Neo-Imperial Policies Are Ruining Himachal’s Ecology

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“Jeevan ka ek aadhaar, van adhikaar.”

Based on climatic conditions, the forest region of Himachal Pradesh (HP) can be classified into four different types: sub-tropical type, temperate region, alpine and sub-alpine region, and trans-Himalayan region. The subtropical forest belt is found on the tracts of Shivaliks and the foothills of the lower Himalayas. This is mostly located in the district of Mandi, Bilaspur, Solan, Sirmaur, and parts of Chamba and Kangra. Dry deciduous and lower moist broad-leaved forests fall under this region.

Mountain or Temperate type of forest belt is found on the upper hills of the lower Himalayas, Middle Himalayas and lower tracts of Upper Himalayas. Such types of forest belts can be found in the districts of Mandi, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla, Solan, Mandi and parts of Chamba. The vegetation here comprises mixed broad-leaved temperate type, Deodar.

Alpine and sub-alpine type forests are found on the upper slopes of the lower and middle Himalayas, and in the upper Himalayas and south-facing lower sloped of outer Himalayas. They fall in the districts of Chamba, Kangra, Kullu, Shimla, Kinnaur and Lahul-Spiti. The vegetation in the belt of this forest is of moist alpine type. Trans-Himalayan forests are on the inner dry valleys of the outer Himalayas and trans-Himalayas. They fall in the district of Lahul-Spiti, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla and parts of Chamba.

Forest Cover In Himachal Pradesh

Source: Himachal Pradesh State Forest Report 2019

It can be seen from the table that about 68% of the land in HP is covered in forest, of which 42% has been classified as ‘UN-demarcated Protected Forest’ by the government. While about 34% of the State’s forest land is categorised under ‘Demarcated Protected Forest’, the rest is under ‘other forest’ and ‘Reserved Forest’. It becomes important here to define this terminological classification of forests by the State. The term ‘protected forests’ first appeared in the Indian Forest Act of 1878 formed by British imperialists. The Act categorised forests into three types: protected, reserved and village.

Source: Himachal Pradesh Forest Department 

Reserved forests were deemed to be commercially viable for exploitation. Maximum state control was to be exercised in this type of forest although occasionally, limited access to forest was granted by the State. The protected forests were also state-controlled but some concessions were given: all commercial species of plants were completely under state control.

Such forests also closed fuelwood collection and restrict grazing of land by cattle. The Indian State has retained the colonial definition of reserved and protected forests. It is important to note that the State has not yet repealed the draconian colonial forest right act but has only amended it to incorporate the greater demands of the imperialist powers in this age.

The Act was amended to further classify Protected Forest into Demarcated and UN-demarcated forests. This is to mark the limit of the activities allowed in the forest. Demarcated forest means that the government has notified the limits to which the forest can be used by the local population. In demarcated protected forests, the State has more control over the resources.

How Relevant Is The Forest Rights Act In HP?

In Himachal, adding to the reserved and demarcated protected forest, about 40% of the forest is under strong and effective state control where people`s activities are minimal. The Forest Right Act of 2006 for the first time recognised the historic injustice done to forest-dwelling tribal societies. The Act vested some rights over forests to communities and individuals. The Gram Sabhas were particularly given the power of decision-making; the clearance of the forest, even for State roads, schools etc. could not be carried out without the decision of the Gram Sabha for it. Above the Gram Sabha, power has been vested in the sub-divisional level and district-level officials. The Act also bars any suit against officers acting in good faith. However, under the Act, this is quite vague and gives officers absolute power over forest resources.

Against this strong statist hold over the forest, the free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) mechanism is one to ensure people’s participation in forest management. People-based community forest management was to be evolved through this. Community participation meant strict utility of traditional and local knowledge of forest by the State in its policy decisions. This also creates a farce mental conception among people that they are the ones who decide about the implementation of projects.

This farce decision-making authority vested in people is not effective in promoting the objective interest of people. For the ideological apparatus of the State like the media, religious institutions and local government, units along with the local ruling class are in a power position to create an opinion about a particular development model. The project is a manifestation of the model that can easily be forced upon people through this power dynamic, leaving no consent here.

Hence, community participation, as envisaged in the Forest Right Act of 2006, is designed to strengthen bureaucratic power, which in turn benefits the capital-state nexus working on the model of ‘increasing the ease of business’. This gave the bureaucrats more power of carrying forward the motives of large corporate giants, capitalists, who have more stake in the hands of these bureaucrats. The Shah Commission inquiry of 2013 found out that many of the bureaucrats have strong rent-seeking opportunities.

From its very inception, the FRA has never been implemented. The bureaucrats decide things on their own, without effectively consulting with the Gram Sabhas. Sometimes, decisions about the allocation of forest land are not taken in Gram Sabha but in the DC office, where few influential people of the village, along with the bureaucrats, work on the dictates of capitalists and ministers. Forest bureaucracy stands in the way of realising the forest rights of tribal communities.

Forest Trees

In Himachal Pradesh, the implementation of this Act is all the more complicated. The gram sabhas are under the strict control of District Forest officers, who have quite a different understanding of the relationship between forests and the tribal communities who stay in them.

They say that the FRA is applicable only in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orrisa, where there are tribes who wear leaves on their body, but here in Himachal, there are no such tribes and the land on which people are living is encroached and not their traditional and ancestral. The Brahmanical consciousness of the bureaucrats who hail mostly from the plains has prevented them from recognising the forest rights of tribals. This is when about 90% of the rural population in Himachal depends on forests for their livelihood.

This practice of the bureaucrats is quite opposite to the objectives of FRA. The FRA was supposed to grant patta to informal landholders, but the bureaucrats in association with ministers and corporate are bent upon displacing people from their land. This tendency of bureaucrats and ministers to openly serve the cause of capital was overtly expressed in the proposal to amend the FRA itself. But on stiff protests by people this amendment stayed. The strong desire for the bureaucrats to work for the interest of capital and not in the general interest of people stems from the political-economic space that determines the limit of our thought, action and moralities.

It is not that officers are morally corrupt and inherently disgraceful. To understand their functioning, it is important to demystify the forest. Forests are not just a natural phenomenon but for the imperialist, they are the reserved stocks for capital formation. Forests are the site to resolve the internal contradiction of capital. The inherent contradiction between the capital’s need to multiply the surplus-value and the natural limit provided by spatial features of a particular region has been resolved by converting forests into commodities and now, in the name of combating global warming, carbon reserve for carbon trade has come up.

Forests As An Imperial Commodity

To facilitate these projects, imperialist power is colonising the forest region, annihilating the social-political and economic space around the forest and construct a direct integration of the geography of the forest into the world supply chain for imperialism.

Besides, forests are instruments for the State to assert a claim over the forest dwellers, integrate the people into its own political space under the flag of one sovereign power. In other words, forest facilitates the production and reproduction of state power. Once integrated within the state, they can be made to serve the cause of capital through the different disciplinary mechanisms of the state institutions.

Forests are the resource base of several industries. It supports pharmaceutical industries in the foothills of Shivaliks by providing herbs of specific chemical compositions. Of the company exploiting the natural resources for profit, Neptune is a leading Canada-based company having its manufacturing unit in Himachal Pradesh. Apart from this Nutraceutex, Torrent Pharmaceutical Limited, Dabur, Natural Pure Herbs etc. are also among the companies that have to depend on herbs from Himachal and Uttrakhand for capital generation. The herbs used by the pharmaceutical industries are: ‘Tejada’, ‘Kala zeera’, ‘ratanjot’, ‘kashmal’ and ‘mitha telia’.

Due to overexploitation of the herbs, many of them face the threat of becoming extinct and in fact, 55 medicinal plants are on the verge of extinction. They are collected by the locals, mostly women groups are organised for this. The contractor, on behalf of the company, employs workers on a daily wage basis and makes them move from jungle to jungle. The contractor does not reveal the medicinal value of the plants or herbs. Sometimes, even children take out the roots of the plants on their own and sell them to the local shopkeeper who in turn is connected to the contractor. The children are paid in the range of Rs 100-500 for the plant or herbs. The herbs and plants that historically belong to the people are hence expropriated.

Buxwaha Forest

But the World Bank does not recognise this as the cause of depletion of forest or destruction to the forest ecology. For them, the only cause is what they call encroachment of forestland by tribal communities and the use of forest produce for food and fuel. It is quite obvious that the bank wants people to be displaced from the forest. They want people to be deprived of their ecosystem, the bank is using a coloniser language to rob people of their habitat and make them free and join the easily exploitable labour for the capital.

To materialise its ideology, the imperialist powers represented in the institutional make-up of the bank create strong bureaucratic power in an oppressed country like India. It is not difficult for the bank to create a subservient bureaucracy since it is the bank that provides the ideology and finance for any sort of political, economical or ecological activities in forests. And it loudest when it comes to forest conservation, the bank thinks that encroachment and traditional use of the forest for food and fuel are the most significant threat to forests. All the bureaucrats echo the loud voice from the bank, for all these officers have the desire to be in Washington on the payroll of the bank.

We have seen earlier in this chapter that bureaucrats think that tribal living in the forest is an encroachment upon forest and the agriculture performed on the forestland is the cause of forest depletion. Indian states have continually vested power in them through different legislation time and again. One such law is the Sale of Timber Act of 1968 based on this the Himachal Pradesh government has formed several rules and regulations related to forest products. That makes forest bureaucrats the biggest landlords.

The Act provides discretionary power to the District Forest Officer to grant permission for a timber sale. This has resulted in a nexus between timber industrialists and bureaucrats, and also given space for what is called timber mafia and bureaucrats nexus. But the biggest mafia in terms of power over the forest resources and zero accountability to the people are these forest bureaucrats. These unholy nexuses have brought havoc to the ecology of Himachal and the Himalayas in general.

The indiscriminate falling of trees has brought a shortage of food, fuel and water to the people here but has benefited the imperialists and their compradors. A report on the status of forests in Himachal said that in 22 years Chir Pine density went down by 72 % in the Chamba district. Three other important species including Deodar, Ban Oak and Kharsu Oak have also seen a decline in density.

Wood-based industrial companies want to convert the whole of the jungle into raw material for their industry. The plywood industries and the paper mills also are dependent on forests for their industrial production, adding further into the deforestation rate. One of the major causes of deforestation in Himachal Pradesh is the development projects. It is interesting to note that the World Bank provided funds for all such development projects as well as afforestation, which is called ‘reclamation of lost ecology’. According to a research of Himdhara, the Kinnaur Forest Division received about Rs 50 crore for afforestation, but the project is still on its way even after six years.

Impact Of Climate Change On Himalayan Livelihoods

Climate change is a real and imminent threat to the lives of people here. The change in temperature of the mountainous region, the erratic weather conditions, melting of snows, frequent cloud bursts, frequent rock and landslides etc. are all examples of the change in environmental conditions that the people have seen in Himachal. The Gaadi tribes of Himachal’s Kangra and Chamba district are most affected by this change in climatic conditions. They are semi-nomadic tribes of the Himalayas, known for the production of carpet wool, they move to the lower reaches of the Himalayas in winter and move back to Daula Dhar in summer.

The change in weather conditions has resulted in rising in the temperature of the lower region, the change in the tree line and snow line has affected the pasture ground which to has moved upward. The rising temperature of the pasture ground has produced diseases of the cattle, many of them have died. The change has compelled some groups of these tribes to stop cattle rearing altogether.

Representational image.

Apple cultivation is the single biggest factor that keeps Himachal’s farmers in a self-sustaining status. One of the main reasons for less migration from Himachal as compared to that from Uttrakhand is the apple cultivation here. Apple is a good cash crop in Himachal, but since 1998, the production rate of apples has been on the decline. Experts said that the abnormal climatic condition led to a change in the snow line, which has moved upward. This has caused a decrease in the area of apple cultivation. The 2016 study showed the extinction of apple cultivation from Sirmour and the lower region of the Kullu district.

This is a very clear example of climate change on people and their economic activities. A decade ago, there was no trace of apple civilisation in the upper reaches of Lahul and Spiti, but now there are orchards, too. The erratic weather conditions have also caused havoc to the economic life of people. Snowfall, hailstones and heavy rainfall in summer months ruin the production of wheat, maize etc.

Retreating glaciers, and an erratic and declining snowfall have dried up. Sources of natural water, streams, ponds and lakes that helped the farmers are no longer existent or are on the verge of drying up completely. They dried up either due to changing climatic conditions or due to the use of cement to preserve them, cement increases the temperature of the water sources and hence, leads to its evaporation. This has created drought-like conditions in the Himalayas, people are vulnerable to water disasters in the upper slopes of the Himalayas. In the middle and upper slopes, as temperature increases, animals like monkeys invade the area and destroy the crop of farmers.

People say that earlier, in the middle and higher reaches, there were no monkeys but now they have invaded villages and towns. This has been possible due to the increase in the temperature of the region, thus making it easier for the monkeys to adapt to the climatic condition of the upper and middle slopes. And to get rid of what the administration calls the monkey menace, the killing of monkeys has been officially sanctioned. The government awards people for killing monkeys. In this way, the State found a solution — albeit the solution to the problem lies in further deepening the problems. Indiscriminate killing of monkeys will create an imbalance in the food web, which in turn will affect the ecological balance.

An ambitious project of the Indian state is the railway line connecting Delhi to Leh by building the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line. This 465 km long railway line at the height of 5,360 metres cost Rs 86,360 crores. The project was proposed in the year 2017, the aerial survey of the area has been completed and the land acquisition is underway. The railway line will have 74 tunnels, 124 large bridges and 396 small bridges. The damage this project is going to cause the Himalayan ecology is unprecedented.

The news of the construction of lines may add to the aesthetic pleasure of the middle- and upper-class of plains as is evident from a news report in Indian TV that said that people can get the experience of airway on this rail journey. Even the ruling class of the hills will benefit from the rail as they will be able to easily transport their cash crops but what will the working class get? Large plots of land of the farmers have been acquired in the name of the project. The Prime Minister himself said that this project is of high strategic significance, as its promises to connect Delhi with Tibet.

So, in the national interest and the interest of aesthetics pleasure of people from plain, the people of Himachal are being asked to let their mountains be blown up by building tunnels, to let their water source dry up by digging of mountains and felling of trees, and to let their forests and arable be snatched. The sheer ambition of this project is havoc for the people here, yet, no environmental, social or economic survey is available. The State is secretly planning a massive blow on the livelihood of people. The project has the potentiality to destroy the whole of the north-western Himalayas, for the railway line will begin with massive deforestation and rock destruction.

The carbon market was earlier proposed as a means to decrease the emission of greenhouse gases. This was conceptualised and given an administrative apparatus in the Kyoto protocol. It was said that climate change can be mitigated through carbon costing. The protocol provided imperialist countries with an edge over oppressed countries. The imperialist powers can provide finance to oppressed countries, who in turn will undertake the project of afforestation, which increases the carbon credit of the oppressed country. This then can be bought by the imperialist power.

Representational image.

With carbon credit, the imperialist country can then raise its emission at the level of credit. Thus, the Kyoto protocol created a new market for the mobility of finance capital. In the name of forest conservation and mitigating global warming, what we have is a more nuanced form of Imperialism.

Similarly, Himachal Pradesh sold its first carbon credit of Rs 1.93 crore to Spain through the World Bank, earlier the Bank-funded Watershed Development Project, and other forest conservation programmes in Himachal. Thus, the Bank spends money, foreign imperialist powers reap benefits and Indian States give them land and resources to reap the benefit. This is forest management and mitigation program of climate change.

The issue about forest conversation and mitigation of climate change is that the solution is being sought within the structures that have created the problems. The social necessity of limitless expansion of capital is the single most cause of the spatial invasion of capital the world over. This has lead to an appropriation of resources, conversion of resources into exchange value, and creating conditions for value addition. The value so added by labour-power is then supposed to find its realisation.

This constant motion of value is capital and in this motion, it has to cross several barriers. The barriers in motion of value are spatial and temporal. Capital overcomes it by the commodification of these barriers. Spatial limits to capital are natural barriers to human development. But capital is like the blessed being who has been given this power that whichever object they will touch will be changed in gold.

Similarly, capital has commodification power. It converts natural barriers in exchange value. But this does not end anywhere. To be alive, the capital has to expand its value again. For this it is chased by value, it moves throughout the world to valorise, and the value so created. And in this process, the cynical chase moves on and on with no end. For any end in this chase is the end of capital itself. Therefore, the whole rhetoric of forest management and mitigation of climate change by carbon trade is just a way to shift the crisis for some time. By doing so, it has only in-visualised the contradiction but in the long run, the contradiction will create yet another crisis. The world must realise the futility of capital-centric environment protectionist measures.

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  1. Parijat Jha

    Hi Uttam, I’m a scholar is committed to thinking critically about the issues you have raised in your posts. My research looks at apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh and raises issues that you have centered incisively in your posts. I can’t seem to find a way to connect with you. Do you think you could email me at parijatrjha@gmail.com and we can discuss our shared commitments?

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