- Unified Approach
- India’s Forest Policy Needs Revaluation
The Nipah virus is causing devastation once more in Kozhikode, marking the fourth occurrence of this disease in Kerala in the past five years. Resulting from a zoonotic spillover, which involves the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans, the Nipah virus finds its closest reservoir in fruit bats.
GS- 2 Health
How far have governments in India succeeded in dealing with zoonotic diseases. What more can be done to combat their outbreaks? (15 marks, 250 words).
Status of the outbreak in Kerala:
- In the recent events, two individuals have succumbed to Nipah in Kozhikode this week, and three more people, including two relatives of one of the victims, have tested positive and are currently receiving medical care.
- These developments bring back unsettling memories from the frightening outbreak of 2018 when 21 out of 23 infected individuals lost their lives.
- The situation, in terms of available treatment options, remains largely unchanged: there is no known cure, and the primary approach to managing Nipah infection, even in a hospital setting, is supportive care.
- Kerala’s Health Minister, Veena George, has reported that hundreds of individuals who had contact with the deceased have been placed under medical observation. Among them, a nine-year-old child is receiving ventilator support.
- To address the situation, a control room has been established in Kozhikode to monitor developments, and all hospitals in the district are being instructed to adhere to infection control protocols.
- Sixteen teams have been assembled to implement appropriate containment measures, and a central team has been dispatched to Kerala to support the state government.
- Neighboring states have taken precautionary measures to prevent the spread of infection across porous borders.
- The state’s Chief Minister has reassured the public through a video message that the state is treating the issue with utmost seriousness.
Dealing with zoonotic outbreaks:
- While previous outbreaks (in 2018, 2019, and 2021) have equipped medical teams with a set of established protocols spanning various domains such as management, isolation, containment, and treatment, it’s crucial to emphasize that maintaining constant vigilance is the sole defense against such outbreaks.
- However, it appears that the most significant lesson, often overlooked, stems from global outbreaks. Research has consistently indicated that human activities have a clear role in the transmission of diseases from animals to humans, as seen in the case of Nipah.
- The rapid expansion of agricultural practices into the original habitats of fruit bats has repeatedly emerged as a contributing factor in post-outbreak analyses.
As governments take strategic measures to combat outbreaks and reduce the toll of infectious diseases, it becomes increasingly evident that a comprehensive “One Health” approach must be embraced moving forward. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened our understanding and appreciation of the One Health concept—an integrated and unifying approach that seeks to harmonize and optimize the well-being of humans, animals, and the environment. This approach is based on the recognition that these elements exist in symbiosis, and the health of one significantly affects the health of the others.
The extensive forested regions that span India’s varied landscapes are far more than just geographic features. They serve as the often-overlooked protectors of our planet, undertaking a significant task in preserving essential ecological services and combating the challenges posed by climate change. Any form of economic development that comes at the expense of these forests will inevitably harm marginalized communities that rely on them.
GS3 – Environment
India’s Forest Policy needs to be revaluated. Discuss. (10 marks, 150 words).
Utility of forests:
- Forests are widely recognized as crucial safeguards against extreme weather patterns, ensuring a steady water supply, preventing soil erosion, and supporting sustainable agricultural practices.
- The loss of these forests could lead to a significant decline in biodiversity, disrupting complex ecosystems and jeopardizing numerous forms of life, including humans.
- Forests have been a primary source of sustenance for humanity, offering a diverse range of foods obtained through various ingenious methods.
- Each domesticated species traces its origins back to the forest, where the gene pool exists in its purest form.
- The reduction in wild food resources due to human activities and the fading knowledge of their harvesting and processing have resulted in a narrowing of the variety within the human food system.
- While many disadvantaged households rely on monotonous staple diets provided by government initiatives, the tradition of and dependence on wild foods and indigenous medicinal systems persist, particularly in remote and economically challenged regions.
- The indiscriminate conversion of forests into low-productivity agricultural lands through encroachments and government regularization for short-term gains must be halted immediately.
For most people, forests are primarily vast expanses populated by trees and wildlife.
Drawbacks of legislations concerned with forests:
The Forest Survey of India (FSI) presents a more nuanced perspective, considering any territory spanning over a hectare with canopy coverage exceeding 10% as part of the forest cover. According to their latest biennial report, India’s forest cover encompasses approximately 22% of its land area. Nevertheless, questions arise regarding this definition and its genuine contribution to India’s ecological security.
- The significance of vast, unbroken forests surpasses the mere sum of smaller, fragmented forest areas, even if these smaller areas have equivalent measurements, often created under the provisions of India’s Forest Conservation Act of 1980.
- Alarming data from Global Forest Watch illustrates this trend: between 2002 and 2020, India witnessed a loss of approximately 3,490 square kilometers of natural forests.
- Recently, the Forest Conservation Bill of 2023 has eased conditions for diverting forests for non-forestry purposes in many regions of the country.
- The penal provisions of the Indian Forest Act of 1927 have been modified through a separate act called The Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Act of 2023, which reduces penalties for offenses related to activities like setting fire, cattle trespass, and grazing in forest areas.
- Similarly, the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Act of 2023 has ‘decriminalized’ offenses, allowing offenders to escape with a mere fine.
- In an effort to promote bamboo plantations in private areas, the Indian Forest Act of 1927 was amended in 2018, removing bamboo from the definition of timber, thereby making bamboo felling a ‘non-offense’ under this Act in Reserved Forests.
- Current economic approaches often fail to acknowledge forest contributions that cannot be strictly translated into market terms. The economic connections related to forest products, including medicinal plants, as well as the provision of livelihoods to forest inhabitants and local communities, are either disregarded or not quantified.
- The crucial role of forests in maintaining water balance in catchment areas and ensuring continuous streamflow is largely overlooked. Carbon sequestration and its role in climate change mitigation are also inadequately considered.
As we continue to move forward in the era of sustainability across all domains, it becomes crucial to reassess, acknowledge, and integrate the genuine value of our forests into the national economy. At the same time, we must ensure that they continue to serve as our protective guardians for the well-being of future generations. The incorporation of wild edible plants into mainstream diets should be explored, as it holds the potential for significant implications for environmental sustainability, especially in a world grappling with food scarcity challenges. Given these considerations, the imperative to conserve forests at any cost cannot be overstated.