Centre’s afforestation bill faces Rajya Sabha stumble
The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill listed for business in Rajya Sabha in the ongoing parliamentary session has been postponed to the monsoon session of Parliament.An amendment to the CAF Bill calling for greater participation of gram sabhas in decisions pertaining to the development of forest plantations under the proposed law.
Compensatory afforestation pertains to development of new forests to compensate for loss of existing forest area due to their transfer for non-forestry purposes, such as setting up of industries, building roads, etc. This is as per a provision under the Rules to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
The ‘user agency’ which seeks the diverted forest land is rule-bound to provide the land or the funds to plant the trees. Currently, funds accumulated through the implementation of this provision are being managed by an ‘ad hoc’ authority set up by the Supreme Court.
The CAF Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on May 3, 2016. However, the current opposition in Rajya Sabha means that the Centre’s plans to spend nearly Rs. 42,000 crore under the afforestation programme now hang in the balance.
While on the face of it, developing forests through plantations might seem like an environment-friendly initiative, there appear to be several issues pertaining to this Bill which require closer attention.
What the Bill says:
Ø Establish a Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Centre and the States for crediting monies received from various agencies under compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value (of forest) and all amounts recovered as per the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Ø The Fund is created as per Supreme Court ruling in 2002 in the Godavaram Thirumalpad vs. Union of India case
Ø Besides artificial regeneration (Plantations), the Fund shall also be utilised for undertaking assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, infrastructure development, wildlife protection and other related activities
Ø An independent system of concurrent monitoring and evaluation be evolved and implemented through the Fund to ensure effective and proper utilisation
Ø A group of experts appointed by the Centre shall monitor the activities undertaken from amounts released from the Fund
Ø All funds realised from the user agencies involving cases of diversion of forest land in protected areas be used exclusively for undertaking protection and conservation activities in protected areas of the State including facilitating voluntary relocation from such protected areas
Timeline of the legislation
Ø The Bill was first introduced in Parliament in 2008 under the UPA government
Ø It passed in the Lok Sabha but was stalled in Rajya Sabha in 2009.
Ø The Bill was passed by the NDA government cabinet in April, 2015
Ø It was listed for discussion in the budget session of Lok Sabha and passed on May 3.
Ø An amendment proposed in the Rajya Sabha demanding that the informed consent with a 50 per cent quorum of the gram sabhas of all villages, within whose boundaries the proposed afforestation scheme/project/activity falls, be obtained. It was also demanded in the proposed amendment that such consent includes a certification that the process of implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is complete in the proposed project area.
Ø The Bill now stands postponed
The objections to it
Ø According to the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a civil society organisation working on tribal rights, this Bill allows states to plant a huge number of trees (or undertake other “forest management” projects) in natural landscapes – such as grasslands, natural open forests, grazing areas, common lands or people’s cultivated lands – without even checking if people have rights over them, and without consulting them about where they should be planted, what species should be planted, and what impact this will have on their lives.
Ø Plantations have been one of the major sources of conflict in forest areas, as forest bureaucrats routinely use them as a way to get more people’s land under their control, the organisation notes in its statement. As a result of loss of access to land, many tribal groups have been pushed to starvation, the organisation notes.
Ø The amendment moved by the opposition in Rajya Sabha will not block the spending of proposed afforestation funds but will only add one small check to ensure that people have one forum where they can defend their rights.
Ø The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2006 found that the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds are being spent on all kinds of activities; for instance, the Uttarakhand Forest Department was spending CAMPA funds on office equipment, vehicles, etc.
The Bill is necessary in the wake of the challenges of climate change which staring at our face with an unblinking eye.The sooner the bill becomes act , the better it is for the country , as time is not the luxury when the country is facing the scourges of climate change year after year.Mitigation – the faster the better.However, the aforementioned concerns should also be taken into account and a balance should be found between consent of the community and the authority of respective forest officials of the region so that the community and officials can work together.Community should not have expansive rights so that it becomes the ground for politics and works of afforestation are stalled , similarly state official should not have expansive rights , so that their hegemony is checked.What we don’t want in this process is neither the agenda of community being exploited for political reasons nor the state behaving as ‘know-it-all’ entity that does not give heed to the genuine concerns.Harmony is the key for this program to succeed and dissemination of environmental education can educate the concerned.