Compensatory Afforestation Fund: flawed and unjust

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Context:

  • As recently confirmed by the Ministry of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, there has been a significant growth in Central compensatory afforestation fund (CAF).

Background:

  • March, 2018: Ministry of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change has collected over Rs. 50,000 core in a Central compensatory afforestation fund (CAF).
  • This money is to be used though the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act, 2016 or CAF.

In news:

  • The recent raise in fund measures the forest destruction under way in India.
  • It also indicates a potent scale of resource appropriation from some of India’s most marginalized citizens living in and around forests.

Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016:

  • In August, 2016 the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 has come into force.
  • Note: It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Salient features of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016:

The salient features of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 are:

  • Establishment of the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  • The payments into the funds include:
    • Compensatory afforestation,
    • Net Present Value  (NPV), and
    • Any project specific payments.
  • The National Fund will get 10% of funds collected and the remaining 90% will go to respective State Fund.
  • The collected funds will be utilized for:
    • Afforestation,
    • Regeneration of forest ecosystem,
    • Wild life protection and
    • Infrastructure development.
  • Levies are imposed on development projects that seek land inside a Reserved Forest or a Protected Area (PA) in a sanctuary or a national park.
  • Establishment of National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities (CAMPA) to manage the funds.
  • NPV quantifies the services provided by the forest.
  • It includes:
    • goods and services (tourism and timber);
    • regulating services (climate change); and
    • None-material benefits (recreation).
  • It seeks to provide:
    • Safety,
    • Security and
    • Transparency in utilization of CAMPA funds which are currently kept in Nationalized Banks and managed by an ad-hoc body.
  • These funds would be brought under the focus of Parliament and State Legislatures by transferring them to non-lapsable interest bearing funds.
  • The determination of NPV will be delegated to an expert committee constituted by the central government.

Importance of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016:

The importance of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 are:

  • Ensures the utilization of approximately Rs 50,000 crore rupees available with the Ad-hoc CAMPA for afforestation, regeneration of forest, infrastructure development and protection of wild life.
  • Impact generated by the diversion of forests will get reduced,
  • Backward tribal areas would get employment opportunities, and
  • Increases green cover and creation of productive assets.

Challenges of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016:

The challenges of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 are:

Forest bureaucracy:

  • No safeguards against the forest bureaucracy implementing compensatory-plantations on already dense forests.

Availability of non-forest land for Afforestation:

  • Difficulty is faced especially in smaller states and heavily forested states like Chhattisgarh to find non-forest lands for afforestation.

Diversion of Fund:

  • The diversion of funds for other activities would take away the focus from the prime objective of compensating for the forest cover lost to developmental or industrial development.

Provisions of Forest Rights Act, 2006 being ignored:

  • Consultations, an important guideline to be followed, are not stipulated for all afforestation projects nor involve the affected gram sabhas.

Against democratic devolution:

  • Provisions of the act are against the principles of democratic devolution as laid down in the 73rdand 74th constitutional amendments.

Way ahead:

  • Enable independent audit of all connected programmes.
  • Implementation of the projects should be through the Compensatory Afforestation Fund to ensure effective and proper utilization of funds.
  • Address concerns over its discordances with Forest Rights Act (FRA), lack of livelihood generation and eviction and poor participation of local communities.
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