SUBJECT : Environment ministry drafts rules for utilisation of more than Rs 42,000 crore greening fund 


The ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) has come up with draft rules to implement the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act 2016. 

The draft has stirred up a controversy with civil societies alleging that stakeholders have not been consulted while in the process. However, union environment minister Harsh Vardhan, while responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha recently, said that the ministry will publish the draft rules in the Gazette, seeking stakeholders' comments once it has been vetted by the ministry of law and justice. 

"There has been no consultation with civil society organisation on this issue. We have two prime concerns. First, that the act doesn't recognize forest right act at all that gives powers to forest dwellers over forest resources and second, that it doesn't provide for consent of gram sabha," said Tushar Dash of Vasundhara, an organisation which works on forest rights. 

The CAF Act, which was passed by the Parliament in July 2016, approved the release of more than Rs 42,000 crore to be spent on afforestation and wildlife protection projects by making it compulsory for agencies which use forest lands to disburse funds for afforestation projects in lieu of the area that was diverted by them. So, every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes like mining or industry, the user agency (government or corporate) is supposed to "afforest" an area of the same size of the forests. 

While environmental groups welcomed such a huge corpus of funds for forest regeneration, it also raised a number of concerns, including the diversion of forestland for afforestation without the consent of the gram sabhas, which have the rights over forests surrounding their villages. Another concern was a rise in monocultures, which could adversely impact the biodiversity of native forests. TOI had reported in October 2016 that native forests were being cut down in many parts of Odisha to make land available for compensatory afforestation. 

Following protests by environmental groups, then environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave had assured that the rules for the implementation of the Act will be drafted with the necessary consultation with gram sabhas. 

Senior Congress leader and former environment minister, Jairam Ramesh recently mentioned in Rajya Sabha that there are 1,70,000 villages in the country with forest land within the village boundary but a very small fraction of these villages have control over the areas under Forest Rights Act, 2006. He also said "a year has passed and no consultations have taken place and no rules have been promulgated. The rights and livelihoods of lakhs of families are under severe threat because of the manner in which the CAF Act is enforced..."