Oil palm plantations raised within the Andaman and Nicobar Islands previously have confirmed to be a complete industrial failure, the Supreme Courtroom-constituted Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has stated, questioning the necessity to revive the industrial crop within the archipelago. In a notice submitted to the apex courtroom on January 12, the committee stated any permission for diversion of forest land for purple oil palm plantation within the archipelago in violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, “is certain to open flood gates in all of the states for comparable agricultural functions on forest lands”.
The CEC also said oil palm plantation might lead to encroachment of forest lands in the islands group and asked why the production of palm oil could not be taken up on the mainland.
The Union Territory administration, in January 2019, moved the Supreme Court seeking revocation of its 2002 ban on commercial and monoculture plantations on forest land in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The proposal is part of the government’s efforts to meet the vegetable oil shortage in the country and reduce its import burden.
The top court had asked the CEC to provide inputs on the Union Territory administration’s proposal to lift the ban and divert 16,000 hectares of forest land for red oil palm plantations. “Since the focus of the proposal is on meeting the shortage of vegetable oil in the country, why cannot the production of palm oil be taken up on the mainland, where the oil palm plantations have been successfully raised,” the committee’s notice submitted to the Supreme Courtroom learn.
It stated purple oil palm plantations raised within the Andaman and Nicobar Islands “previous to the enactment of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, proved to be a complete industrial failure” and the Union Territory administration’s application does not appear to adequately address the reason for raising fresh plantations in the Andaman forests. “The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; FC Rules, 2022, and the guidelines issued thereunder strictly prohibit the diversion of forest land for agricultural purposes and any non-site specific activity. This being so any permission to raise red oil palm plantation or any other non-forest agricultural crop in the Island is bound to open flood gates in all the states for similar agricultural purposes on forest lands,” the CEC noticed. It additionally famous that the 16,000 hectares of forest land the place the palm oil plantations are proposed to be raised has not been recognized and demarcated.
The applying merely states that grasslands will probably be utilised for this goal “with none particular reference to the existence of grasslands in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and site of such grasslands”.
The Union Territory administration’s application seeking modification of the Supreme Court’s 2002 order, even without identifying and demarcating the required forest land on the ground, “appears to be an attempt by the applicants to bypass the due procedure and the scrutiny of the proposal under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980″, the CEC stated.
The committee additionally stated the elevating and upkeep of 16,000 hectares of economic plantations would require engagement of 32,000 plantation labourers on a steady foundation at a really conservative estimate.
It stated the provision of such a big labour pressure within the islands is uncertain and the potential for unlawful migrants getting into from neighbouring international locations can’t be dominated out.
“The island is already going through a critical subject of encroachment of forest lands and from previous expertise, there’s each probability of the plantation labourers and their households encroaching on forest lands,” it panel stated.
In 2021, the Centre launched the Rs 11,040-crore National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) with focus on oil palm plantations in the northeast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands due to their favourable climate for the purpose.
India depends on imports to meet its requirements for edible oil and is its largest importer in the world.
During 2020-21, India imported around 133.52 lakh tonnes of edible oils, costing around Rs 80,000 crore, the Centre said in its operational guidelines, prepared last year, for NMEO-OP.
Of all the imported edible oils, the share of palm oil is about 56 per cent, followed by soybean oil (27 per cent) and sunflower oil (16 per cent).
Domestic edible oil production has not been able to keep pace with the growth in consumption, which is above 250 lakh tonnes.
Citing damage done to rainforests and biodiversity by oil palm plantations in southeast Asia, environmental experts have warned that their cultivation in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could be disastrous. PTI GVS SZM
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