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Home » PRESERVING THE SACRED GROVES OF INDIA

PRESERVING THE SACRED GROVES OF INDIA

GS 3, MAINS: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

 

  • In India, sacred groves are important wilderness areas and have been central to local communities’ understanding of conservation. These groves are significant repositories of regional biodiversity, serve as stepping stones for dispersal through unsuitable habitat and are known to retain viable populations of rare and endangered species.
  • Sacred groves, in contrast to nature reserves, are also an integral part of rural social systems. They are not just remnant forests but important village institutions where traditional beliefs and social taboos have led to limited exploitation and access restrictions.
  • Because of this, many sacred groves host rich biodiversity, particularly when compared to adjacent areas managed in other ways, or even to protected forests.
  • The groves are also sources of important ecosystem services for local communities, including provisioning (e.g. water, medicinal plants or ornamental resources) and regulating (e.g. pollination or water purification) services.

 

HOW THEY ACT AS REPOSITORIES OF LIFE:

  • Possibly, sacred forests occupy not more than 1 per cent of the country’s total forest area, but generate larger ecosystem services as they are present in almost all biogeographic, climatic and agro-ecological regions.
  • They also act as “keystone structures”—distinct patches in the matrix of degraded ecosystems. Exceptionally large trees, wet or moist microsites and edges or ecotones (transition area between two biomes) of sacred groves create enormous ecological heterogeneity and associated taxonomic and functional diversity over small patches.
  • At places, they serve as corridors between protected areas, sources of seed rain and refugia of both local and regional species in extreme events like droughts and floods. Sacred forests, being huge carbon sinks, are also significant for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • Locally revered groves promote community solidarity while the ones famous across a region help enhance social capital through inter-community exchange of knowledge. Recognition of this knowledge could be a cost-effective way of resolving conflicts between communities and conservators.

LACK OF SYSTEMATIC MONITORING:

  • It is difficult to say whether there has been any loss or expansion in the number and extent of sacred groves. The Forest Survey of India monitors forest cover using satellite data which is not designed to discern sacred forests.
  • These forests are also not treated as separate land use category in village-level census, surveys and in maps generated by the forest department.
  • Worse, data collected by researchers at different points of time and following different methods (mostly visually estimated or reported area values) is leading to erroneous conclusions.
  • An assessment by CPR Environmental Education Centre, a centre of excellence of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows that there are 10,377 sacred groves across the country. Going by the ministry’s website the number could be as high as 13,270.

WHY THE SACRED GROVES CONTINUE TO RECEIVE LITTLE ATTENTION?

  • Sacred forests were not treated as a distinct class of forest when all uncultivated lands were notified as forest and wasteland by the colonial regime. This resulted in their inclusion in reserve and protected forests, controlled by the forest department, or in civil forests under the revenue department. Since most sacred forests had cultural and religious relevance, they suffered overexploitation, primarily by outsiders brought through forest contractors after the introduction of organised forestry and commercial utilisation of forest resources.
  • Integration of isolated communities with the mainstream and transition from subsistence income to market economy impacted their value systems. Use values and tangible benefits of forest started getting more attention than non-use values and intangible benefits, reaching to an extreme of replacement of the original concept of sacredness of the forest by sacredness of idols and icons, and resulting in overexploitation of forest resources and conversion of forest land.
  • Sacred groves owned by families suffered the wrought of fragmentation with disintegration of traditional joint families.
  • Some policies undermine the importance of forest conservation. These include promoting forest-based goods and services at subsidised price; chemical fertilisers serving the functions of manure generated from forest litter; modern health facilities replacing forest resource-based local healthcare; and supplying drinking and irrigation water from sources other than the traditional ones recharged by forests.
  • The government did launch some programmes to promote community forestry, including restoration of degraded and conservation of intact forests, but the quantum of support has been too low. Community participation in forest management is getting more recognition in policies but there is little focus on upgrading indigenous knowledge and storage capacity, value addition and marketing of forest products.

CONCLUSION:

  • So far, ecosystem services of sacred forests, such as pollination of crops, control of pests and pathogens, slope stability, recharge of water sources, source of seed rain and climate change mitigation and adaptation, have been expressed only in qualitative terms.
  • There is a need of quantifying these services, valuing them in economic terms and feeding the research output to the people as well as policy-makers to make forest conservation and restoration economically as efficient as other land uses and occupations.
  • Above all, this much-revered-yet-much-neglected landscape should be urgently included in national conservation plans and their management be made an integral component of participatory sustainable cultural landscape and livelihood development programmes.

PREVIOUS YEARS UPSC MAINS QUESTIONS:

  • ‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change? (2017)             
  • Not many years ago, river linking was a concept but it is becoming reality in the country. Discuss the advantages of river linking and its possible impact on the environment. (2017)
  • Rehabilitation of human settlements is one of the important environmental impacts which always attracts controversy while planning major projects. Discuss the measures suggested for mitigation of this impact while proposing major developmental projects. (2016)             
  • Give an account of the current status and the targets to be achieved pertaining to renewable energy sources in the country. Discuss in brief the importance of National Programme on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). (2016)               
  • To what factors can the recent dramatic fall in equipment costs and tariff of solar energy be attributed? What implications does the trend have for the thermal power producers and the related industry? (2015)       
  • The Namami Gange and National mission for clean Ganga (NMCG) programmes and causes of mixed results from the previous schemes. What quantum leaps can help preserve the river Ganga better than incremental inputs? (2015)  
  • Should the pursuit of carbon credit and clean development mechanism set up under UNFCCC be maintained even through there has been a massive slide in the value of carbon credit? Discuss with respect to India’s energy needs for economic growth. (2014)         
  • Environmental impact assessment studies are increasingly undertaken before project is cleared by the government. Discuss the environmental impacts of coal-fired thermal plants located at Pitheads. (2014)