Nagaland's unique floral and faunal biodiversity acts as insurance against the adverse impacts of climate change, as emphasized by the Nagaland State Biodiversity Board on the eve of the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), observed annually on May 22. Likewise, the State's Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change called for collective action to protect, conserve, and sustainably utilise biodiversity and restore ecosystems as well as the balance of nature.
Whether these messages were customary rhetoric, occupational hazards, or ardent appeals, they align with the theme for IDB 2023, “From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity” and serve as crucial reminders to all stakeholders to take action on environmental concerns and implement concrete steps to safeguard the state's biodiversity.
To address these challenges in Nagaland, three pressing issues necessitate urgent policy intervention and concerted efforts from authorities and citizens. Firstly, Nagaland's performance in the annual NITI Aayog's Sustainable Development Index reveals a concerning trend. Despite traditionally excelling in social and environmental parameters, recent indices show a decline or lack of improvement in environment-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goals such as Clean Water and Sanitation, Cities and Communities, Climate Action, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Consumption & Production, and Life on Land have witnessed no progress or even setbacks. This underperformance must be promptly addressed through effective policies and targeted actions.
Furthermore, the latest biennial report, “India State of Forest Report 2021,” highlights a decline of 235 square kilometre in Nagaland's forest cover between 2019 and 2021. Although the state still boasts a considerable forest cover of 73.90% of its total geographical area, the rate of decline is alarming. Additionally, the periodic “Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India” published by the Space Applications Centre (SAC), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), reveals significant desertification and land degradation in Nagaland. These findings necessitate concrete countermeasures to prevent further degradation and protect the fragile ecosystem.
The third critical issue revolves around a proposed amendment to the Forest Conservation (FC) Act, 1980. As reported in The Morung Express (May 19 Print), the amendment bill, introduced in Lok Sabha on March 29, 2023, seeks to grant greater legal flexibility to the government and developers for implementing infrastructure projects in ecologically sensitive forest areas. The bill, among others, proposes to exempt forest land situated within 100 km along the international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control, for the construction of strategic linear projects of national importance or security, subject to specified terms and conditions by the central government's guidelines.
This proposal has raised concerns among many, as it could have detrimental consequences for the state's unique floral and faunal biodiversity, which the NSBB describes as a safeguard against the adverse impacts of climate change. It is crucial for the State Government to express its concerns and ensure that this amendment does not compromise the conservation efforts and environmental sustainability of Nagaland.
At this juncture, those in positions of power and all stakeholders must implement state-centric policy measures to safeguard Nagaland's fragile biodiversity. The fact that nearly 90% of the state's forests are community-owned should not serve as an excuse for complacency. The Nagaland State Biodiversity Board has emphasised the need for multi-pronged strategies to ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services for humanity, and it is imperative that the Board take the lead.
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