Pay and chop

By Kirtiman Awasthi
Published: Saturday 31 January 2009

Lok Sabha passes forest fund bill

THE Lok Sabha on December 23 passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill without any amendment.

The bill has been severely criticized by conservationists who say it institutionalizes diversion of forests to other land uses through a system of monetary compensation and does not protect forests. The Parliamentary committee on environment, to which the bill was referred October last, also said the bill should be scrapped in its present form.

The bill was passed amid pandemonium as members tried to raise objections. "Had there been any discussion in the Lok Sabha, we could have pushed for changes we had recommended," said Sujan Chakraborty, a member of the committee. He said the bill was not required at all and that the environment ministry had pushed it through to cover its own failure in monitoring compensatory afforestation carried out by states. The Committee had suggested the setting up of an afforestation and eco-development board within the ministry to manage compensatory afforestation funds.

The bill, mandates the setting up of a fund for collecting money against forestlands diverted to non-forest uses and a Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (campa) to oversee the utilization of the funds. The funds are to be used for compensatory afforestation, plantation, infrastructure development and Green India Programme.

Chakraborty said the only change the bill will bring about is that funds for compensatory afforestation will be routed to the states through campa.

A Ministry official countered this by saying that the bill when enacted will increase accountability of states. Chakraborty said the bill has inherent problems as it does not give adequate thrust to compensatory afforestation that is meant to undo the damage caused by diversion of forest lands (see 'Diversion Route', Down To Earth, October 16-31, 2008).

The Bill also does not address the problem of forest dwelling communities and tribal people who depend on the forests for their livelihood, said Shankar Gopalakrishnan, secretary of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity.

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