New scheme, old proposal
THE Union environment and forests ministry has come up with a new scheme for compensatory afforestation in case of forest land being diverted for non-forest use. Under the scheme the user will identify a piece of land, develop a forest and transfer it to the forest department. Called the Green Credit Scheme, it has got administrative approval and has been sent to the Supreme Court for its clearance.
Under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, if an industrial project requires diversion of forest land, the user has to pay for compensatory afforestation. Since 2000, the matter related to compensatory afforestation is in the Supreme Court, when a petition on non-utilization of compensatory afforestation fund was admitted. Following the apex court's interventions the money collected for compensatory afforestation along with net present value of the forest now goes to the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (campa).
However, campa has been not functional ever since it was notified in April 2004; over Rs 6,000 crore is lying idle. In May 2008, the Union government introduced the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill in the Lok Sabha to streamline money utilization, but the Parliamentary Standing Committee to which the bill was referred asked the government to scrap it.
According to sources, many multilateral funding agencies have been asking for compensatory afforestation as part of environmental safeguards, affecting prospects of loans from them. The new scheme tries to end this deadlock. "It will supplement the existing one and will be optional. The users can either deposit money in campa or do compensatory afforestation on their own," said a senior ministry official. Other charges like the net present value remain and will go to campa.
Conservationists doubt whether the new scheme will compensate for the loss of forest. The problem of monitoring afforestation and identifying land remains. Now companies will be in direct conflict with communities when negotiating for land and look for commercial gains in plantations, said Himanshu Upadhyay, senior researcher with advocacy group Environics Trust.
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