India aims to reforest as parts of it burn

May 06, 2016, 2:18 PM EDT
(Source: jburke601/flickr)
(Source: jburke601/flickr)

India’s lower house of government passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015 this week, proposing a budget of $6.2 billion to reforest certain parts of the country. As the bill makes its way to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house), the legislation has been met with mostly praise, some shock (at the sum), and intermittent criticism from those who say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been negligent in preservation efforts for existing forests.

Quartz reports that the aim of this project is to increase India’s forest cover from 21.34% of the total land to 33%, and quotes India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar:

"Our forest cover will dramatically increase and it will result in achieving our target 33% of tree cover and most importantly 2.5 billion tonne of carbon sink as we have indicated in our intended nationally determined contributions."

Indeed, India has its work cut out for it in terms of lowering carbon emissions per the Paris Agreement it signed on April 22. Last October, the government said it would reduce carbon emissions relative to its GDP by 33% to 35% from 2005 levels by 2030. In addition to projects that include developing cattle feed that creates less gas for cows to belch out, reforestation is a no-brainer step when considering how to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

But, while it’s hard to complain whenever a government allots funds for improving the environment, some are calling out Modi’s administration for spending money on reforestation where it should have worked harder to preserve the forests India already has. On Thursday, reports detailed how rain in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand extinguished forest fires which "killed at least six people and destroyed more than 1,900 hectares of woodland” according to the BBC. It is ironic that the government is passing reforestation legislation as the Uttarakhand has been burning to the ground since mid-February. The fires worsened over the last week, with nearly 400 fires burning at once.

Other critics, notably in the government itself, warn of the misuse of this massive amount of funding and question how exactly the government plans to develop forests. The damage to land like the Uttarakhand is irreversible. While the measure is certainly not too little, it may be too late. It will be many years before we can tell whether or not reforestation across the country was worth it.