Indian Forest Service Chief: “We Have to Win the Peace”

“We have won the war but have to win the peace,” proclaimed India’s top forester, referring to prevalent forest conservation efforts in his country.

Speaking to a select audience at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University on April 20, 2012, Dr. P.J. Dilip Kumar, the top official in the Indian Forest Service (IFS), touched on India’s National Forest Policy and emerging issues in the environmental landscape. Present among the diverse audience of faculty members and students was an IFS delegation of high-level officers that Kumar accompanied while it took part in a Maxwell executive training program focusing on forestry and public policy.

Over the past year, Kumar explained, India has been witnessing a massive outcry for transparency and accountability in government agencies and policy-making, something he believes cannot be ignored. “Today there is a general distrust of government and the public wants empowerment of the communities and of the people.”

While acknowledging that it is important for government officials to look at ways to respond more effectively to public needs, Kumar also clarified some inherent limitations in their scope of work. “The number of civil servants per 1,000 people is extremely low, and sometimes they are not able to address issues,” Kumar said, talking about the limitations of their service. He also mentioned that while public scrutiny is extremely important and that questioning of policy has moved the forest service forward, the Right to Information Act impedes functioning at times as “not everything can be done in a transparent way, but these are challenges we have to rise to.”

In the wake of rapid urbanization across India, Kumar laid heavy emphasis on building partnerships with local communities that he believes have become the main vehicle for Indian forest conservation.

“Every inch of land we have to protect in collaboration with the local communities,” he explained. Kumar, who has been the director general of forests in India since 2009, also spoke briefly about the Green India Mission, which calls for greater protection of open spaces, and he reminisced about the lasting influence on forest policy-making and management of Dietrich Brandis, who worked with the British imperial forestry in colonial India, and of Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the US Forest Service.

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