NEW DELHI: The Union tribal affairs ministry (MoTA) has recommended that only indigenous, local species should be planted in compensatory afforestation projects and a gene-pool of species that were removed during forest diversion be replanted in the afforestation plot. In response to the draft compensatory afforestation rules 2018, MoTA has underlined that no afforestation activity be approved without the concurrence of gram sabha.
At a time when the effectiveness of compensatory afforestation is being debated following massive protests by residents against a proposal to fell thousands of trees for a colony redevelopment project in the capital, MoTA’s comments on the draft rules have raised some pertinent issues.
For example, the draft rules say that compensatory afforestation activity can be taken up as per a working plan developed in consultation with either the gram sabha or van sanrakshan samiti or village forest committee. But the MoTA has stated that “reference to van sanrakshan samiti or village forest committee is not only extra constitutional but also not desirable when under forest rights act 2006, only gram sabha is statutorily recognised.”
The MoTA has also referred to their meeting with the Union environment ministry (MoEF) in January 2018 where they had discussed that any working plan for afforestation should conform to the forest rights act 2006. It has further said that the original list of species that occupied the forestland, which was diverted, be considered for the afforestation project including the total number of trees, species and area diverted.
The role of gram sabha has been further strengthened after the forest rights act 2006 came in to force. The MoTA has stated that gram sabha should be defined as per panchayats (extension to scheduled areas) act and forest rights act. These comments were sent to the MoEF in May 2018 when the tribal affairs secretary was Leena Nair. “There was a meeting with the environment ministry and after a few months tribal affairs ministry’s responses to the draft rules were sent but we are not sure what has been incorporated in the final rules,” a senior official from MoTA said.
It’s been two years since the compensatory fund act (CAF) to utilise more than Rs 50,000 crore funds for compensatory afforestation of lost forests was passed in Parliament but the rules for its implementation are yet to be notified. Following various objections to the CAF raised by some Congress leaders in 2016, late environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave had assured the Rajya Sabha that rules would provide for necessary consultation with gram sabhas but the final CAF rules are yet to be notified.
What is compensatory afforestation?
Every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes like mining or industry, the user agency is supposed to "afforest" an area of the same size of the forests that were diverted. Since these plantations do not immediately provide the ecological services that the natural forest that was cut down would provide, the law requires the user agency to compensate the loss by paying the "net present value (NPV)" of the forests for the next 50 years. The NPV, calculated by a panel of experts is anywhere between Rs 5 and Rs 11 lakh depending on the type and quality of forests that were diverted.
How will the CAF fund be utilised?
80% of the net present value (NPV) of forests can be utilised for:
· Assisted natural regeneration
· Artificial regeneration (by plantation)
· Silvicultural operations in forests
· Protection of plantations and forests
· Pest and disease control in forest
· Forest fire prevention
· Soil and moisture conservation
· Planting and rejuvenation of forest cover on non-forest land falling in wildlife corridors
· Relocation of villages from protected areas
· Improvement of wildlife habitat
· Animal rescue centres/veterinary facilities etc
Rest of the 20% can be utilised for “strengthening of forest and wildlife related infrastructure, capacity building of state forest department personnel” among others.