The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 aims to establish Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority at Center and State levels to ensure transparent utilisation of funds realised in lieu of forest land diverted into Non-Forest use. The Current Fund generated stands at around Rs.50,000 crores.
Recently the Indian government notified the draft Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Rules, 2018 to facilitate utilisation of over Rs 50,000 crore among states to expand India’s forest cover. They specify the activities that would be allowed or restricted in a forest area.
- CAF fund’s growth over the past decade is a measure of the forest destruction under way in India.
- Evidence establishes that CA plantations destroy natural forests, harm biodiversity, undermine the rights and nutrition of local communities, and disguise rampant misuse of public funds.
- By allocating more than Rs 50,000 crore, the Act enables the forest bureaucracy to entrench its control over forests and subvert democratic forest governance established by the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 and Panchayats (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act (PESA), 1996.
- Consultations are not stipulated for all afforestation projects, and need not even involve the affected gram sabhas. This indicates a blindness to conflicts under way across forested landscapes.
- Forest departments are taking over village resources, which includes existing old-growth forests, because there is a severe paucity of land to service the thousands of afforestation projects that have been floated.
- The draft rules state that compensatory afforestation work can be carried out in consultation with a gram sabha or Van Sanrakshan Samiti, but Van Sanrakshan Samiti is not a legal body and cannot be equated with Gram Sabha.
- The law and now its draft rules spells further capture of Adivasi lands in the name of compensatory afforestation.
- The rules provide for mere “consultation” with communities in the planning of compensatory afforestation which is a step backward from the consent provisions in the FRA and the 2014 Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act.
- The need of hour is amending the Provisions of CAF act to ensure it does not affect the Forest and Forest Dwellers. The Provisions need to be more friendly towards them.
- The CAF Act needs to be integrated with the FRA and PESA by centering the role of Gram Sabhas and incorporating land and forest rights guarantees. Only then India’s target of 33% forest cover would be achieved.