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India has a fairly robust forest biodiversity management system, with extensive institutional arrangements and vast legal instruments; however, there has been a decline in biodiversity on one hand and an increase in impoverishment of biodiversity-dependent people on the other hand. India’s biodiversity includes 96,373 known species of fauna and 56,515 known species of flora (including fungi and lichens) and comprises about eight per cent of the world’s biodiversity, but demonstrates a declining trend in numbers, with a significant proportion of species becoming threatened (Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF, CC), India’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Government of India, New Delhi, 2014, online at Corresponding to biodiversity degradation is the deepening impoverishment of forest-dependent local communities, particularly the Adivasis (Planning Commission of India, Eleventh Five Year Plan 2007–12, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, online at

These twin crises can be addressed only through reform of the country’s forest biodiversity management regime, based on the triple objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), namely, conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing and drawing from the ecosystem approach as defined by Decision V/6 of the fifth meeting of the CBD’s Conference of Parties, held in 2000, as “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Thus, the application of the ecosystem approach will help in reaching a balance of the three objectives of the Convention—conservation, sustainable use and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources”. The reform should be founded on the Indian constitutional provisions of Article 39.B, which direct that the ownership and control of natural resources should be distributed in such a way that it serves the public good and 48.A, which emphasises the state’s responsibility to safeguard forests and wildlife.

The recommendations of the High Power Committee (HPC) (also known as the Subramanian Committee), constituted by the Government of India with the objective “to provide more freedom to private sector to function” (Review of the Various Acts Administered by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, New Delhi, 2014, online at http://envfor.nic. in), can only exacerbate the current twin crises of biodiversity degradation and deepening poverty within the forest-dependent communities, as pointed out by critiques of the HPC report (Leo F Saldanha and Bhargavi S Rao, “A Non-Trivial Threat to India’s Ecological and Economic Security: A Critique”, Environment Support Group, Bangalore 2015, online at The report ought to be rejected as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests (Two Hundred Sixty Third Report on High Level Committee Report to Review Various Acts Administered by MoEFCC, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, 2015, online at At the same time, there is a compelling need to reform the forest biodiversity management regime to effectively address the twin crises of biodiversity degradation and deepening poverty of the forest dependent communities. Therefore, we propose a framework for the reforms to be undertaken, in an effort to arrest and reverse the twin crises, based on the CBD’s principles and constitutional directives.

India's modem biodiversity management is evolving, albeit hesitantly, from its conventional protectionist and exclusionary domain to encompass the triple objectives of the CBD with equal importance to all, a process catalysed by the Forest Rights Act (FRA). While forest departments continue to maintain their central roles in biodiversity management, the Panchayati Raj institutions have come to play a rapidly growing role, supported by enabling legislation. There is a gradual departure from the colonial legacy, expanding the scope of building partnerships with local communities through village-level institutions, such as the Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMC) and statutory bodies, which include the Forest Rights Committee under the FRA and the Biodiversity Management Committees under the Biological Diversity Act.

However, the inherent resistance within the forest departments to share power with the local communities remains a challenge to the effective enforcement of these provisions. Multiple legislation pertaining to forests and biodiversity also retain the colonial legacy of exclusionary conservation. Constraints in the legislation and resistance within forest management institutions are factors impeding the tentative evolutionary process of devolving forest management powers to the people. Therefore, the reform of the forest management regime is necessary and urgent. This paper examines the current policy, legal and institutional matrix and proposes ways to implement reform in line with the founding principles of the CBD.


National Forest Policy

Since its inception in 1988, the revised National Forest Policy has guided forest management in the country. The principles of local community participation and benefit sharing embodied in the policy have also provided the stimulus for the launch of the Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme. However, rapid developments that have occurred in the forestry sector since 1988 require a subsequent revision of the policy, particularly since forest managers at various levels give more weight to the prescriptions contained in the policy than to any other related policy instrument.

While the policy has stimulated the launch of JFM, it did not envisage JFM as it is. Additionally, changes in the legal ambience of forest management caused by the FRA 2006 should be refl ected in the policy. This will also provide an opportunity for the policy to be informed by the CBD, its programme of work on forests and the overarching principle of the ecosystem approach. However, in the new Draft Forest Policy of 2016 (Indian Institute of Forest Management, online at, the government invited public comments, but then withdrew the same policy with the same haste as it was drafted. This represents what a forward looking, inclusive and CBD-compliant forest policy should not be.