The Sindh Forest Act 2012 (Final Draft)
Forest Act 1927 was promulgated in pre-independence days mainly for protection of government owned forest in the subcontinent. The same Act was adapted by the government of Pakistan on independence and is still enforce in Sindh Province. The Act is so generalized that it was made applicable to a wide range of forest types in the country. Since the role of forests was not fully understood and protection of forest was seen through policing policy, need to review the Act was not felt. Updating Forest Law was required to have been carried out immediately after independence but it could not be done.
Forestry and forest management has taken a new turn over the past 3-4 decades. The limited role of forests for providing timber, fuelwood and fodder has now changed to provision of environmental services including soil and water conservation, provision of clean air and clean water and provision of safeguards against environmental hazards including cyclones and floods. The forests are now regarded as center of biodiversity and a cover against global warming and climate change. They can now yield huge economic returns without being harvested. They are a major source of ecotourism and allied livelihoods so vital for rural economy. These newly understood roles of forest demand a corresponding comprehensive law to new concepts. The law requires review and revision to meet the challenges of management and empower the forest managers to carryout management interventions with full legal support. The new legal instrument should amply address the provision and requirements of UNFCCC, CBD and Convention on Combating Desertification. Legal aspects of carbon sequestration and carbon credit marketing should also be kept in view.
The new legislation should also incorporate provision for regulation of ecotourism including development and maintenance of visitor facilities and monitoring of visitor behavior.
A paradigm shift from punitive protection and policing policy for forests will require a bigger role for the communities living within and around the forests participatory resource management involving communities i.e joint forest management and the public private partnership in forestry enterprise should be the hallmark of the new forest law.
Assuming greater role of range management and watershed management for water conservation, the Forest Department will require legal teeth to regulate livestock grazing on rangelands and for taking steps for range improvement. Protection of watersheds will require specific legal provisions to regulate human activities on private and commercial lands. Although the present Forest Act 1927 does provide controls on wastelands, this is not enough.
Sindh Province had a unique system of managing riverine forests. Lack of floods and abuse of the system in the past has resulted in dramatic decline in forest cover. It is high time that management system is reviewed and public private partnership is introduced for management of forest and on the lands belonging to Forest Department.
Interdepartmental coordination among Forest, Irrigation, Highways, and Revenue Departments is also crucial for successful forest management on public and private lands. Such cooperation is also the need of the time with the other departments such as Local Government and the Union Councils. The new law has to cover all these aspects and avenues.