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Friday, 13 May 2016

Centre’s afforestation bill faces Rajya Sabha stumble

The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill listed for business in Rajya Sabha in the ongoing parliamentary session has been postponed to the monsoon session of Parliament, Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh told The Hindu on Wednesday. On May 10, the Congress leader had moved an amendment to the CAF Bill calling for greater participation of gram sabhas in decisions pertaining to the development of forest plantations under the proposed law. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Janata Dal (United) and the Trinamool Congress have also called for amendments to the Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 3.
CPI (M) politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat told The Hindu that even before the Congress moved amendments; it was their party that had opposed this Bill as it went against the forest rights of tribal communities. The proposed law sought to empower the state bureaucracy through creation of additional funds, wherein decisions pertaining to expenditures for forest development were not made in consultation with stakeholder communities, she said.
“In 2008, when the Congress-led UPA had moved this Bill in Parliament we had raised objections then too, as it went against the spirit of the Forest Rights Act, which recognised the forest-dependent tribal communities as having rights over these resources,” she said.
Compensatory afforestation pertains to development of new forests to compensate for loss of existing forest area due to their transfer for non-forestry purposes, such as setting up of industries, building roads, etc. This is as per a provision under the Rules to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The ‘user agency’ which seeks the diverted forest land is rule-bound to provide the land or the funds to plant the trees. Currently, funds accumulated through the implementation of this provision are being managed by an ‘ad hoc’ authority set up by the Supreme Court.
The CAF Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on May 3, 2016. However, the current opposition in Rajya Sabha means that the Centre’s plans to spend nearly Rs. 42,000 crore under the afforestation programme now hang in the balance.
While on the face of it, developing forests through plantations might seem like an environment-friendly initiative, there appear to be several issues pertaining to this Bill which require closer attention. Below, we will look at the provisions of this Bill, the timeline of its development and the objections being raised to it.
What the Bill says:
Ø Establish a Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Centre and the States for crediting monies received from various agencies under compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value (of forest) and all amounts recovered as per the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Ø The Fund is created as per Supreme Court ruling in 2002 in the Godavaram Thirumalpad vs. Union of India case
Ø Besides artificial regeneration (Plantations), the Fund shall also be utilised for undertaking assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, infrastructure development, wildlife protection and other related activities
Ø An independent system of concurrent monitoring and evaluation be evolved and implemented through the Fund to ensure effective and proper utilisation
Ø A group of experts appointed by the Centre shall monitor the activities undertaken from amounts released from the Fund
Ø All funds realised from the user agencies involving cases of diversion of forest land in protected areas be used exclusively for undertaking protection and conservation activities in protected areas of the State including facilitating voluntary relocation from such protected areas
Timeline of the legislation
Ø The Bill was first introduced in Parliament in 2008 under the UPA government
Ø It passed in the Lok Sabha but was stalled in Rajya Sabha in 2009.
Ø The Bill was passed by the NDA government cabinet in April, 2015
Ø It was listed for discussion in the budget session of Lok Sabha and passed on May 3.
Ø On May 10, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh moved an amendment in the Rajya Sabha demanding that the informed consent, with a 50 per cent quorum of the gram sabhas of all villages, within whose boundaries the proposed afforestation scheme/project/activity falls, be obtained. He also demanded in the proposed amendment that such consent include a certification that the process of implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is complete in the proposed project area.

Ø The Bill now stands postponed
The objections to it
Ø According to the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of tribal and forest dwellers' organisations from eleven States, this Bill allows states to plant a huge number of trees (or undertake other "forest management" projects) in natural landscapes - such as grasslands, natural open forests, grazing areas, common lands or people's cultivated lands - without checking if people have rights over them, and without consulting them about where they should be planted, what species should be planted, and what impact this will have on their lives.
Ø Plantations have been one of the major sources of conflict in forest areas, as forest bureaucrats routinely use them as a way to get more people's land under their control, the organisation notes in a statement. As a result of loss of access to land, many tribal groups have been pushed to starvation, they note.
Ø The amendment moved by the Opposition in Rajya Sabha will not block the spending of proposed afforestation funds but will only add one small check to ensure that people have one forum where they can defend their rights.
Ø The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2006 found that the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds are being spent on all kinds of activities; for instance, the Uttarakhand Forest Department was spending CAMPA funds on office equipment, vehicles, etc.

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