The showpiece effort for extending India’s forest cover has been its compensatory afforestation programme, which seeks to ensure that forest lands getting ‘diverted’ for industrial or infrastructure development is mandatorily accompanied by afforestation effort on at least an equal area of land.
GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Environment and Ecology), GS-II: Governance (Governmental Policies and Initiatives)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Understanding Compensatory Afforestation
- About the CAF and CAMPA
- Issues with CAMPA
- Definition of Land as Forest
- Monitoring mechanism
- India has pledged to boost its forest and tree cover to absorb an extra 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 as part of its international climate change commitments.
- However, this goal is challenging to achieve due to rapid industrial and infrastructure development, urbanisation and forest stress.
- In the past decade, over 1,611 sq km of forest land has been cleared, with 529 sq km cleared in the past three years alone.
- Despite this, government data reveals that the total forest cover increased by 1,540 sq km between 2019 and 2021.
- To achieve the target, India has introduced several afforestation and reforestation initiatives such as the Green India Mission, national afforestation programme, and tree plantation exercises along highways and railways.
- The national rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) and Namami Gange programmes also have significant afforestation components.
Understanding Compensatory Afforestation
- According to Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) rules, for every hectare of forest land diverted, double the area of ‘degraded’ lands are used as sites for ‘compensatory afforestation’.
- Every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining or industry, the user agency pays for planting forests over an equal area of non-forest land, or when such land is not available, twice the area of degraded forest land.
- As per the rules, 90% of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) money is to be given to the states while 10% is to be retained by the Centre.
- The funds are used for CAT, assisted natural generation, forest management, wildlife protection and management, relocation of villages from protected areas, managing human-wildlife conflicts, training and awareness generation, supply of wood saving devices and allied activities.
About the CAF and CAMPA
- The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act was passed by the centre in 2016 and the related rules were notified in 2018.
- The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority works as a national advisory council under the chairmanship of the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for monitoring, technical assistance and evaluation of compensatory afforestation activities.
- The primary objective of CAMPA is to promote afforestation and regeneration activities as a way of compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses.
Issues with CAMPA
- In 2002, the Supreme Court had observed that collected funds for afforestation were under-utilised by the states and it ordered for centrally pooling of funds under ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund.
- The law says that land selected for afforestation should preferably be contiguous to the forest being diverted so that it is easier for forest officials to manage it. But if no suitable non-forest land is found, degraded forests can be chosen for afforestation. In several states like Chattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand where the intensity of mining is very high, to find the non-forest land for afforestation to compensate the loss of forest is a big task.
- Utilisation of CAMPA fund: Several state governments are not utilising it properly. An amount of Rs 86 lakh from CAMPA funds meant for afforestation was reportedly spent on litigation work in Punjab.
- Moreover, at several places, the loss of natural species is compensated with plantation of non-native species in the name of the artificial plantation. It serves as a threat to even the existing ecosystem.
Definition of Land as Forest
- The conundrum of defining forest has been around since the 1980s.
- In 1996, the Supreme Court in its Godavarman Judgement expanded the definition of Forest that includes lands,
- That was already notified by the Centre as forests,
- That appears in government records as forests
- That fell in the “dictionary definition” of forest.
- Under the third category, it is the prerogative of the States to define their own criteria and define tracts of land as a forest which is known as ‘deemed forests’.
- This is because, a tract of grassland in one State might qualify in one region as forest, but not in another.
- However, not all States have submitted such criteria and once a State applied criteria, it couldn’t be reversed.
- Forests defined under these criteria constituted about 1% of the country’s forests.
- The discussion on these deemed forests came up because the Uttarakhand government had put forth a set of criteria defining forest land and asked the Environment ministry for it’s opinion.
- The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) have clarified that the States need not take the Centre’s approval to define what constitutes unclassified land as forest.
- States have their own established monitoring mechanism to check if the funds are being used for their intended purpose.
- The Centre also has its own monitoring scheme and approves funds for use by States. “Independent concurrent monitoring and evaluation and third-party monitoring of works undertaken from State Fund is included in the Annual Plan of Operations of the respective State CAMPA and States are required to carry out internal and third-party monitoring of the Compensatory Afforestation (CA) and other activities,” the Environment Ministry said in its reply.
- In addition, “measurable output” of all physical activities and targets of each permissible activity along with checking if deadlines are met is monitored by the State Executive Committee and State Steering Committee of the respective State CAMPA.
- Chhattisgarh and Odisha have had the maximum amount transferred to them, or close to ₹5,700 crore each followed by Jharkhand and Maharashtra at around ₹3,000 crore.
-Source: The Hindu