A nature-positive revival must be a top priority for governments around the world as they grapple with the twin-edged challenge of a distressing health crisis and a painful economic recession. WHO’s manifesto rightly reminds the world of an ‘intimate and delicate relationship between people and the planet’ and recommends a six-step guidance for a healthy and green recovery.
Earlier this year, the Indian government’s decisive signal of including ‘dense forest cover’ as one of the criteria and its enhanced weightage in the tax devolution formula could not have been better timed. Strengthening the 7.5% weightage of the dense forest criterion to 10% by India’s Fifteenth Finance Commission amounts to incentivising states through a $12 billion transfer, one of the world’s largest, to preserve and enhance forests.
The Finance Commission is an influential government-appointed body that guides the Government of India’s tax devolution process. TNC India, along with key partners, undertook critical analytical research and outreach at the state and national level to help demonstrate the value of retaining the forest-related criteria in the tax devolution formula.
In India, the 10th most forested country in the world, over 300 million people depend on forests for their sustenance. For about 100 million of them, forests are the main source of livelihood and cash income from fuelwood, fodder and various non-timber forest products. Forests also serve as important genetic reservoirs for plants and animals that have potential uses for food and medicine. With India’s large vulnerable population, including rural communities, farmers, landless labourers and returning migrant workers dependent on natural ecosystems, the case to preserve and enhance forests is a no-brainer.
The Finance Commission has since requested TNC India to conduct critical follow up assessments, build significant relationships for our new program and demonstrate the high value of our initial work. If this crucial policy move is continued and actioned in the right spirit, India is not far from eventually meeting its forest and tree cover goals.
The onus lies with states to take the needed action to ensure a win-win for communities and nature.