Forest and trees


 "CAMPA Funds are like Blood Money"-J Krishnaswamy
-Usha Nair

The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Bill has been passed by both Houses of the Indian Parliament a few days back and is awaiting Presidential assent. The Bill is meant to promote afforestation and regeneration activities as a way of compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses. Central Government while according prior approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose stipulated conditions to the effect that the State Government shall realize funds from the user agency for compensatory afforestation to mitigate impact of diversion of forest land. The Net Present Value (NPV) of the diverted forest is to be calculated for a period of 50 years, and recovered from the “user agency” that is “diverting” the forests. CAMPA Bill provides for establishment of a permanent institutional framework at the Centre and at each State/UT to ensure utilization of these funds in an expeditious and transparent manner The Bill also seeks to provide for constitution of a multi-disciplinary Monitoring Group to monitor activities undertaken from these funds, and also provides for annual audit of the accounts by the Comptroller& Auditor General.

On paper, India is taking all the right steps towards balancing its developmental objectives and fulfilling its international environmental commitments. The Indian government's recently presented Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to UNFCCC vows to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level ,and create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.In March 2015,India consciously decided for the first time ever, to include forest cover in tax allocation formula, by prescribing state government’s portion of tax revenue as partially dependent on how much forestland it has maintained. India has earmarked $6 billion, more than any other nation in the world. The government is committed to enhance forest cover from 24 percent to 33 percent of the total geographical area.

It is a matter of satisfaction that United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its Emission Gap Report 2014, has recognized India, as one of the countries, on course to achieving its voluntary goal of reducing the emissions intensity and lists India as one of the few countries where forest and tree cover has increased in recent years from 23.4% in 2005 to 24% of the geographical area in 2013.India also has reported improving carbon stock in its forests by about 5%.  Initiatives like Green India Mission (GIM) and policies like National Agro-forestry Policy (NAP), REDD-Plus policy, Joint Forest Management; National Afforestation Programme  all strive towards achieving the said objectives.

The latest fillip given to afforestation by the Indian Government is, however,a matter of worry for environmentalists, given that Compensatory afforestation  predominantly consists of raising artificial plantations of non-native species of trees, with zero biodiversity value. Even where plantations of mixed species of native trees have been raised, they do not come anywhere close to replicating the natural habitat that was destroyed. Commercial afforestation is a cause of major environmental degradation and social problems. The drawbacks of afforestation have been detailed in several of my earlier articles on the subject. The net increase in forest cover does not indicate anything on the actual health of the natural grown forests.  A high level committee on environment laws had observed that the quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2014, with poor quality of compensatory afforestation plantations being the key reason behind the situation. 

N. H. Ravindranath  opines  that India could be potentially over-reporting the area under forests by including many non-forest tree categories such as commercial plantations of coconut, cashew, coffee and rubber, and fruit orchards. India may also be under-reporting deforestation by reporting only gross forest area at the state and national levels. His analysis shows that the current mode of monitoring and reporting of forest area is inadequate to meet the national and international requirements. There is need to categorize monitoring and reporting of forest cover, deforestation and afforestation rates under (i) natural/ primary forest, (ii) secondary/degraded forests, (iii) forest plantations, (iv) commercial plantations, (v) fruit orchards and (vi) scattered trees. 

Souparna Lahiri observes that the annual loss of forests from diversion in India is estimated to be a staggering 35,000 ha and more. To claim that India is one of the lowest deforestation countries, as claimed in the INDC, is to hide the stark reality. 'India’s commitment to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tones of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 is nothing but a veil to hide India’s continuing deforestation and privatization of India’s forests'. 

The Centre for Science and Environment has termed the existing ad-hoc CAMPA regime  as 'compromised compensation'. They have extensively quoted from the CAG Report titled ‘Compensatory Afforestation in India ( 2013)’ which listed many shortcomings .Thus, Compensatory afforestation was carried out on only in 49 per cent of identified degraded forestlands. Seven states,  carried out no compensatory afforestation. Numerous instances of unauthorized renewal of leases, illegal mining, continuance of mining leases despite adverse comments in the monitoring reports, projects operating without environment clearances, unauthorized change of status of forestland and arbitrariness in decisions of forestry clearances were observed. In six states, encroachment of forestland was noticed but no time-bound action was taken to evict encroachers, despite Supreme Court directions. Only 61% of the compensatory afforestation funds released by Ad hoc CAMPA from 2009-12 was utilized.

Gaurav Madan  cites the Chinese model of compensatory afforestation where Communities manage forests more sustainably than governments or private entities. China has implemented one of Asia’s most successful forest reforms:  more than 400 million people have been given direct rights over approx.100m hectares. In India,  the Indian Forest Rights Act(2006), empowers  individual and community rights and if effectively implemented, at least 150 million people in 170,000 villages will exercise rights over 40m hectares of forested land. This represents at least half of India’s forests. A concerted effort to implement the Act would usher in the largest land reform in India’s history.   However, the CAMPA Bill is silent on the participation of Gram Sabhas and tribal communities in the process of compensatory afforestation and does not give them any share in the funds. CAMPA funds may remain under the tight control of State Governments, and environmentalists doubt whether distantly seated bureaucracies can effectively monitor the end use of CAMPA funds.

 The INDIAN EXPRESS  on 25/5/2016 commented on some of the  difficulties on the ground."While the principle of compensatory afforestation, and the need for payment of NPV, is fairly straightforward, the implementation is plagued with complications. The main difficulty has been the availability of non-forest land for afforestation. The law says the land selected should preferably be contiguous to the forest being diverted, so that it is easier for forest officials to manage it. But in case that is not possible, land in any other part of the state can be used for the purpose. If no suitable non-forest land is found, degraded forests can be chosen for afforestation, but in that case, twice the area of diverted forest has to be afforested. Still, there is difficulty in finding land, especially in smaller states, and in heavily forested ones like Chhattisgarh. The other point of contention has been the purposes for which the money can be used. The fund was envisaged to be used only for “compensatory” afforestation, but the Bill before Parliament has expanded the list of works that this money can be utilised for, and includes the general afforestation programme run through the Green India Mission. Forest protection, forest management, forest and wildlife related infrastructure development, wildlife conservation, facilitating relocation of people from protected wildlife areas,  are proposed to be made valid expenditure from this account.' Critics say this will take the focus away from the prime objective of compensating for the forest cover . 

It is imperative that CAMPA funds are judiciously allocated and utilised towards sustainable forest growth. But are we likely to miss the woods for the trees?

(Usha Nair is a nature lover who can be contacted at

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