Parliamentary Committee on Estimates pulls up Centre for failing to increase forest cover in the country
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved an expenditure of Rs 13,000 crore on plantation and forest restoration in the country over the next five years. This will mark the beginning of the implementation of the National Mission for a Green India (GIM), one of the eight national missions of the government under its National Action Plan on Climate Change.
The decision of the CCEA made on February 20 came a day after the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates pulled up the government for failing to increase the forest cover in the country. In its report presented to Parliament, the committee expressed disappointment that despite India having a National Afforestation Programme running since 2002, the forest cover in the country has decreased.
The mission plan prepared by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests was supposed to be launched in 2012-13 (at the inception of the 12th five-year plan) with the target of improving the quality of five million hectares of degraded forests and bringing another five million hectares of non-forest areas under forest cover in 10 years. The total cost of the mission is estimated to be Rs 46,000 crore. But the plan was stuck because of delay in financial approvals.
Of the total Rs 13,000 crore approved for the mission for the next five years, Rs 6,000 crore will be spent in convergence with the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund meant for compensatory afforestation in lieu of forestland diverted for development projects and Rs 4,000 crore in convergence with MGNREGS. About Rs 2,000 crore will be spent from the Planning Commission’s plan outlay and Rs 1,000 crore will be spent from the national afforestation programme and forestry grant for keeping forest cover intact, as recommended by the 13th Finance Commission.
“In the next five years, we’ll work on improving forest cover through eco-restoration projects and increase forest cover in newer areas through agro-forestry and farm-forestry,” said an official in the environment ministry. For the next five years the mission’s target will be to cover 2.8 million ha area. “We are identifying the landscapes for GIM on the basis of five criteria which include forest cover status, wildlife corridor value, vulnerability to climate change, watershed areas and improving livelihood of forest dependent communities,” said the official.
An official release of the ministry said that the gram sabhas and the committees mandated by the gram sabhas, including revamped joint forest management committees (JFMCs), will oversee the mission implementation at the village level. “Revamped forest development agency (FDA) under the chair of an elected representative at district/division level, revamped state forest development agency with a steering committee chaired by the chief secretary and an executive committee chaired by the principal chief conservator of forests will work at the state level. A governing council, chaired by the minister of environment and forests and a national executive council chaired by the Union environment secretary will facilitate mission implementation at the national level.”
Forest rights activists have expressed doubts over the ministry's move to revamp JFMCs as part of the GIM process. They question the relevance of forest-department controlled JFMCs at the village level when Forest Rights Act recognises the rights of the communities to own and manage forest resources. Besides, the availability of land for additional plantation is also a big question (see 'Green Mission: raise forests, sink CO2').
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