The BJP government plans to increase spending to a staggering $6.2 billion (Rs41,000 crore) to increase India’s green cover all across length and breadth of India.
The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015 as it has been named—has already been passed by loksabha the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The main purpose of this project is to increase India’s forest cover from 21.34% of the total land to 33%. Now the upper house of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha needs to approve this.
What is The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015?
Spotlights of the Bill
The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
These Funds will receive payments for: (i) compensatory afforestation, (ii) net present value of forest (NPV), and (iii) other project specific payments. The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.
Key Issues and Analysis
The Bill establishes the Funds for compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. However, there are several factors (other than administration of funds) which affect compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. These factors are mentioned below.
A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.
Procuring land for compensatory afforestation is difficult as land is a limited resource, and is required for multiple purposes, such as agriculture, industry, etc. This is compounded by unclear land titles, and difficulties in complying with procedures for land use.
A High Level Committee on Environment Laws observed that quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2014, with poor quality of compensatory afforestation plantations being one of the reasons behind the decline.
The Bill delegates the determination of NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) to an expert committee constituted by the central government. As NPV constitutes about half of the total funds collected, its computation methodology would be important.
“I have my reservations about this project,” Sreedhar Ramamurthi, an earth scientist and management trustee at NGO Environs Trust, said. “There should be a mechanism to monitor that the funds are used correctly. Many a times, forest officials themselves burn down forests when they are pressed for target completion and complain that their work was lost in fires.”
“The setting up of the authority won’t have any impact on forest land,”Ajay Kumar Saxena, program manager, forestry, at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said. “Already, a lot of forest land has been affected in the past and we can’t reverse the damage that has happened.”