Over the last couple of years, Modi’s regime has been taken to task for waging a war on the environment under the guise of development. Between large-scale coal mining efforts, massive deforestation and purloining fertile land at dirt cheap rates from farmers and land-owners against their will to build steel plants, and increase industrial growth, the treasure we should hold most important is fast depleting--our natural resources. However, all of that may soon change should the government’s recent declaration be any indication.
India has a policy to keep at least one-third of the land area under forest and tree cover. According to Indian State Forest Report (ISFR) report of 2015, only 21.34% of forest area is actually available out of the 33% and the report also mentioned an increase of over 5000 sq km forest area in 2013-15 and that is soon going to get a boost with the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015(CAF).
The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave its approval to move official amendments in the CAF Bill last month and the Lok Sabha passed it on May 3. According to the Bill, almost Rs. 40,000 crores are sitting idle in the afforestation funds since 10 years. An ad-hoc organisation, Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) will be responsible for the efficient and transparent usage of these funds.
90% of these funds will be provided to states who are going to spend it on forest regeneration and wildlife protection, while 10% will stay with the Central government. Right after the hearing of the Bill, Prakash Javadekar, the Union Environment Minister said “I am sure that this fund will give a tremendous push in our afforestation movement. Our forest cover will dramatically increase and it will result in achieving our target 33 per cent of tree cover and most importantly, increase our chances to achieve the 2.5 billion tonne of carbon sink as we have indicated in our INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution).”
Under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, if a private company or a user agency diverts or converts a forest land for non-forest purposes, the central government takes compensation in the form of capital or conservation activities. To mitigate the impact deforestation has, the Centre also tries to conserve and develop forests. In the absence of permanent institutional mechanism more than Rs.40,000 crores have accumulated with the said ad-hoc Body since 2006. CAMPA has thus been directed to issue Rs.6000 crore per annum for the cause by the legislation.
According to the searing report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), numerous instances of unauthorized renewal of leases, illegal mining, continuance of mining leases despite adverse comments in the monitoring reports, projects operating without environment clearances, unauthorized change of status of forest land and arbitrariness in decisions of forestry clearances were observed. In six states where information was available, encroachment of 1,55,169.82 hectare of forest land was noticed but MoEF did not take time bound action for eviction despite directions of the Supreme Court.
Chennai-based writer and social activist Nityanand Jayaraman was not too happy with the proposal, however. “The bill only legitimizes deforestation. It is akin to chopping off perfectly working legs and replacing them with expensive prosthetic limbs. Compensatory afforestation involves chopping down old growth and natural forests in one place, and attempting to compensate for that by planting other trees in a different place. However, forests are not just a clump of trees. While tree cover may be to some limited extent replaceable, it is virtually impossible to compensate for the wildlife lost and the multifarious links in a complex forest ecosystem. Neither is it possible to compensate for the hydrological functions lost during deforestation,” he told us.
It might be argued that it would be of more value for the government to develop more stringent protection laws rather than try to re-forest areas that have already been previously destroyed or create more where previously there was none, however, at this point in the graph of global warming, any effort towards conservation isn’t to be taken lightly. Let’s hope the money is transparently and usefully allocated, and we achieve our goal of 33% forest coverage in the years to come.
Words: Preksha Malu
Feature Image Courtesy: Lifenlesson.com