Compensatory afforestation process may be overhauled

The ministry plans to overhaul the compensatory afforestation process by accrediting private or public-private partnership companies to raise plantations near reserved forests that can be bought by developers of projects involving diversion of forest land.
Any project involving the destruction of forests may soon be able to meet the compensatory afforestation target it has to meet by simply buying ready-made plantations, if a controversial plan being considered by the enviornment ministry is finalised.(Gurminder Singh/Hindustan Times)
Any project involving the destruction of forests may soon be able to meet the compensatory afforestation target it has to meet by simply buying ready-made plantations, if a controversial plan being considered by the enviornment ministry is finalised.(Gurminder Singh/Hindustan Times)
Updated on Jan 03, 2020 02:31 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByJayashree Nandi

Any project involving the destruction of forests may soon be able to meet the compensatory afforestation target it has to meet by simply buying ready-made plantations, if a controversial plan being considered by the environment ministry is finalised.

The ministry plans to overhaul the compensatory afforestation process by accrediting private or public-private partnership companies to raise plantations near reserved forests that can be bought by developers of projects involving diversion of forest land.

The proposal has been accepted in principle by the Forest Advisory Committee of the environment ministry according to minutes of a FAC meeting held on December 19.

But experts warned that such a scheme would lead to commoditisation of precious forest land.

Under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining or industry, the project developer is supposed to identify non-forest land of an equal area and also pay for planting forests over this, or when that is not available, on twice the area of degraded forest land. This money presently gets collected under the compensatory afforestation fund.

But, the minutes suggest that the ministry is mooting a revamp of this scheme with a so-called “Green Credit Scheme.”

The reasons given by the ministry for this revamp include delays in accessing compensatory afforestation funds to raise plantations; the fact that land made available by project developers for afforestation is often far away from the place where the diversion has taken place; cost over-runs for projects; and plantations often don’t have a good survival rate.

To address these issues, the green credit system proposes that any agency interested in raising plantations can apply for accreditation by the environment ministry.

The plantation will be eligible for compensatory afforestation three years after it has been raised if it meets a “predetermined criteria of success.” This plantation can then be traded with the project developer and the price negotiated between the company raising the plantation and the developer. If the company raising the plantation doesn’t wish to trade, it can retain it and harvest the timber once ready.

“In the larger context, this will hasten afforestation work and also carbon sequestration to address the concerns of climate change,” the proposal states, as recorded in the meeting’s minutes.

The proposal also states that wood apple, neem, eucalyptus, ficus, prosopis cineraria or khijdo and a few other species will be preferred for such plantations.

“The proposed scheme is regressive in its design and approach. The failure of compensatory afforestation has been turned into an opportunity to create plantations plots that can be traded by user agencies seeking forest land diversion. It has no ecological sensibility or livelihood sensitivity. More than ever before forest land will be a commodity for a business scheme, where it is purchased in advance and sold in future,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research. “This proposal also runs the risk of plantations being raised onmulti-use land, turning them private forest enclosures. This will restrict access of forest dependent or pastoral communities on lands forest rights may historically persist and their final legal recognition may still be under contest,” she added.

Siddhanta Das, former director general of forests who retired last month declined to comment on the issue saying “since I am not in the ministry anymore its not appropriate that I comment.” Anjan Mohanty, inspector general of forests didn’t respond to queries.

“We are seeing that more and more forest land is being used for compensatory afforestation instead of non-forest land. The ministry is diverting degraded forest land or revenue forests for afforestation which is very worrying. Now this new proposal of opening up forests to the private sector will lead to commercialisation of forests in violation of forest laws,” said Tushar Dash, member of Community Forest Rights—learning and advocacy group.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021