Passing of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill and what it holds for India - May 10, 2016

Major gains:
  1. The funds for afforestation which were lying unused for past 12-13 years amounting to Rs. 41,000 crore would be unlocked strictly for afforestation
  2. As per the earlier provision 10% funds would go to the state and 90% would go to the Centre. This scenario would be completely reversed and now 90% funds would go to the state kitty whereas only 10% will go to the Centre’s kitty. Further this 10% will also benefit the states indirectly. So this provision is also a leg up for India’s efforts at larger decentralization under the Modi regime.
  3. The Bill seeks to establish setting up of a National Compensatory Afforestation Fund and also a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund. As the funds would now be deposited in public Accounts they would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny both at the Centre and the State level which was not the case earlier.
  4. Compensatory Afforestation Fund bill will not be the only forest budget for the states. The states must give their regular budget to forest (department). This will be only an additional funding.
  5. For the first time the 14th Finance Commission has given a weightage of 7.5% to forest cover in a State for allocation of funds which makes it necessary for states to invest in afforestation.
  6. The Proposed Rule Book will also include people’s participation and State participation. It will call for submission of State plan for afforestation within 3 months. Meeting of steering Committee to be held every 3 months. The Steering Committee would include Tribals, Subject Matter experts along with other officials. The money would be apportioned to the state completely at one go at the start of financial year.
  7. Quality of forest and scientific management of Forests would also be given importance.
  8. The Ministry will verify all proposed Compensatory Afforestation allotted lands with satellite imagery and won’t just rely on DFO certificate making it a more scientific and reliable approach.
  9. Central Government will utilize its fund also for capacity building of Forest Officers.
  10. 9 Forest Research Institutes have produced 8 patents last year. Some part of this fund will also be spent on that to give impetus to research.
  11. There would also be a monitoring mechanism to monitor the spending and quantify the results.
  12. Native species of plants will find more priority over exotic species of plants.
  13. There would be provision of Social Audit. This bill will not lead to displacement of Tribals and will consider Tribals as part of the ecosystem of Forests.
  14. In Paris Agreement India had promised to create a new sink of 2.5 Billion tonnes of Carbon. This Bill shall help adhere to the commitment India made there.

Major Concerns:
  1. The Bill should be adhered to in its true spirit.
  2. Interests of Tribals shouldn’t be compromised.
  3. There should be a statutory body to make sure that Rules aren’t changed at the whims and fancies of Ministers or Governments in Power.
  4. Tribals should get monetary rewards and employment opportunities out of this exercise.
  5. Private Forests should also be encouraged and their model should be financially feasible and their rights of earning revenue out of it legally protected.
  6. Need mechanism to avoid misuse of funds.
  7. Rare species and biodiversity should also be emphasized.
  8. There should be timeline based implementation of projects and penalty provisions for defaulting states.

- Prof. Manish S Kelkar