The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015

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Introduction

Meaning of ‘Compensatory Afforestation’

Compensatory Afforestation refers to afforestation activities and regeneration of forest for the purpose of compensating for the forest land being diverted to non-forestry purposes. The ‘non-forest purpose’ refers to clearing or breaking up of any forest area for the purpose as mentioned below;

  • Cultivation of tea, spices, coffee, palms, rubber, horticulture crops or for medicinal purpose, etc.,
  • Or any purpose other than afforestation,

but does not include any activities in relation to ancillary to conservation , management, and development of forest area and wildlife, especially the establishment of fire lines, checks, wireless communications as well as construction of bridges, fences, dams, waterholes, boundary marks, pipelines, or any other like purposes.

Compensatory Afforestation is one the most important steps or initiatives taken by the Central Government in the way of de-reserving or diversion of forest land for non forest purpose.

Previous Legislation on Forest Protection

According to Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and its rules and guidelines, whenever a forest land is converted for any of the non-forest purpose, the equivalent non-forest land has to be recognized for compensatory afforestation. Any project proponent, the government or private agencies must apply for forest clearance from Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), before converting the forest land into non-forest land. The funds for raising compensatory afforestation are to be decided by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and imposed accordingly. The Compensatory Afforestation funds are to be utilised for the development, protection and management of forest and wildlife.

The 2015 Bill on Compensatory Afforestation

In 2008, a bill was passed to establish a proper institutional mechanism for compensatory matters, but it got lapsed due to dissolution of LokSabha. Meanwhile, the functions of the Compensatory Afforestation were carried on by Ad-hoc CAMPA. Finally, to accelerate the activities of Compensatory Afforestation, the Union Cabinet on 29th April, 2015 gave its approval for the introduction of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015 in Parliament.

Highlights of the Bill are as follows:

  • The bill attempts to establish the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and the State Compensatory Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  • The National Fund will receive 10% of the funds and the State Funds will be receiving the remaining 90%. These funds will be utilised for:

(i) Compensatory Afforestation to recompense for the loss of forest, regeneration of forest eco system, wildlife protection and infrastructure development

(ii) Net Profit value of Forest (NPV)

(iii) Other project specific payments

  • NPV constitutes about half of the total funds collected. The Bill so delegates the determination of NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) to an expert committee constituted under Central Government.

Later, on May 13th, 2015, Lok Sabha referred this Bill to the department related to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment and Forests. Further, the Committee submitted its report containing 26 recommendations to the Parliament on 26th February, 2016. Out of 26, the Central Government accepted 20 recommendations and relocated 49 official amendments in the Bill i.e Compensatory Afforestation Bill, 2016 on 26th April, 2016. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May, 2016 and by Rajya Sabha in July, 2016.

Criticism of the Bill     

In spite of its promising appearance, the bill has been severely condemned by several environmental conservation groupsfor its inconsistency and short-sightedness.

Firstly, the bill appears to be in direct conflict with the Schedule Tribes and other Traditional Forest dwellers (Recognition of Forests) Act, 2006 i.e. Forests Rights Act, that vests rights of forest management over more than half of India’s forests in tribal and forest-dwelling communities.

Secondly, there appears to be ill-conceived strategies with regards to the funds so allocated for afforestation projects because it usually results into greater expense but little utility.

Thirdly, the lack of recognition of moral and legal rights of the gramasabhas and tribals or the complete absence of local participation reflects that would lead to trickling down of benefits. This indicates the lack of democratic participation.

Fourthly, the bill ignored the recommendations of the Kanchan Chopra Committee and Indian Institute of Forest Management committee on net present value of forests, which recommends for sharing part of compensation with forest dependent communities as well. The fund has grown from Rs 1200 crore to about Rs 40,000 crore in the past decade as a measure of compensation for forest destruction.

Conclusion and Suggestion

From the bare reading of criticism of the bill, one cannot come to any conclusion. But, in the recent statement by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), it was stated that introduction of the bill has ended all the uncertainties that has plagued various key projects under the Ministry of Environment and Forests and seeks to provide more definite access for both the Central and State governments, and accelerate funding in order to ‘restore and improve quality of degraded forests.’ Further, the funds so allocated under this bill, which are intended to be utilised in projects would create employment opportunity to stakeholder tribal communities, and thereby ensuring greater availability of timber and non-timber forests products to the local population. Further, the bill has been structured to fulfil the requirement as laid down by the Supreme Court in T.N. Godavaran Thirumulpad v. Union of India and others, which addressed the creation of compensatory afforestation fund, penal compensatory afforestation and additional compensatory afforestation and net present value of the diverted forest land. Thus, it is suggested that this bill should not only work for the benefit of forest, but also the forest-dwellers.

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