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Cabinet approves bill proposing Rs38,000 crore afforestation push

The bill aims to provide an institutional mechanism, both at the centre and in states and Union territories, to ensure quick, efficient and transparent utilization of money collected in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purposes, such as industrial projects. Photo: Hemant Mishra/MintPremium
The bill aims to provide an institutional mechanism, both at the centre and in states and Union territories, to ensure quick, efficient and transparent utilization of money collected in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purposes, such as industrial projects. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, bill will be introduced in Parliament during the ongoing session

The Union cabinet on Wednesday cleared the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill 2015, which will facilitate the distribution of around 38,000 crore among all states to encourage them to plant forests.

The bill, which was cleared in the cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will be introduced in Parliament during the ongoing session.

The bill aims to provide an institutional mechanism, both at the centre and in states and Union territories, to ensure quick, efficient and transparent utilization of money collected in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purposes, such as industrial projects. This bill is expected to mitigate the impact of such diversion by encouraging afforestation projects.

At present, the unspent amount available with the ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), is around 38,000 crore. Fresh accrual of compensatory levies and interest on accumulated unspent money is around 6,000 crore per year.

On Tuesday, Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar told lawmakers in Parliament that all states will get money from CAMPA in addition to their share of the 38,000 crore provided for by the afforestation bill.

For instance, from the latter fund, Uttarakhand will get 2,400 crore, Andhra Pradesh 2,700 crore and Arunachal Pradesh around 1,400 crore.

An official government statement said, “The proposed legislation also seeks to provide safety, security and transparency in utilization of these amounts, which currently are being kept in nationalised banks and are being managed by an ad-hoc body. These amounts would be brought within broader focus of both Parliament and State Legislatures and in greater public view, by transferring them to non-lapsable interest bearing funds, to be created under public accounts of the Union of India and each State."

The bill envisages the establishment of a national Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) and state CAFs to credit amounts collected by state governments and Union territory administrations to compensate for the loss of forest land to non-forest projects.

“Utilization of these amounts will facilitate timely execution of appropriate measures to mitigate impact of diversion of forest land, for which these amounts have been realised. Apart from mitigating the impact of diversion of forest land, utilisation of these amounts will also result in creation of productive assets and generation of huge employment opportunities in rural areas, especially in backward tribal areas," the government statement said.

Activists are, however, sceptical of the move.

“We still have not seen the bill but if it is the same bill that the UPA (the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance) government had attempted in 2009, then it is very destructive. So if the new CAMPA bill by NDA (National Democratic Alliance) is similar to that of the UPA, a huge amount of money would be put at the disposal of forest department with no accountability. And the people who would lose the most would be forest dwellers. Frequently plantations would be planned on land which actually belongs to forest dwellers," said environmental activist Shankar Gopalakrishnan.

“Use of CAMPA money should instead be decided by locals. Environmental and social mitigation plans should be decided with consent of local forest dwellers community," he added.

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