New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments to the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, which will facilitate the distribution of around 42,000 crore among all states to encourage them to plant forests.

The cabinet also approved the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement adopted at the 21st Conference of Parties held in Paris in December. The signing will take place in New York on 22 April. “Suggestions given by the parliamentary standing committee have been incorporated. The bill will be tabled in the Parliament in the coming session and we hope that all parties will support it," Union minister for environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) Prakash Javadekar told reporters after the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

At present, the unspent amount available with the ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) is around 42,000 crore, Javadekar added. Fresh accrual of compensatory levies and interest on accumulated unspent money is around 6,000 crore per year.

“The legislation will ensure expeditious utilization of accumulated unspent amounts available with ad hoc CAMPA in an efficient and transparent manner. 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 realized," said an official statement.

The money collected under CAMPA comes in lieu of forest land diverted under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for non-forest purposes, such as industrial projects and the bill is expected to mitigate the impact of such diversion by encouraging afforestation projects.

The government believes that apart from mitigating the impact of diversion of forest land, utilization of the fund will result in creation of productive assets and generation of huge employment opportunities in rural areas, especially backward tribal areas.

In May 2015, the cabinet had cleared the compensatory afforestation bill.

The bill was then introduced in the Lok Sabha in May 2015 but was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests. The committee submitted its report in February, and the government incorporated the changes.

The bill basically 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.

The cabinet also approved expanding the present India-Chile preferential trade agreement (PTA). Under the expanded PTA, Chile has offered concessions to India on 1,798 products and India reciprocated with concessions on 1,031 products. “Under the proposed expanded PTA, 86% of India’s exports to Chile will get covered with concessions, which is likely to result in doubling of our exports in the near future," the government said in a statement.

The India-Chile PTA signed in March 2006 came into force in August 2007. Bilateral trade registered growth of 58.49% from 2006-07 to 2014-15 after the PTA came into force.

India exported $570 million worth of goods to Chile in 2014-15 and imported goods worth $3.08 billion, leading to a trade deficit of $2.5 billion.

“Expansion of India-Chile PTA will enhance the trade and economic relations between the two countries. The expansion would be an important landmark in India-Chile relations and consolidate the traditional fraternal relations that have existed between India and Latin American countries," the government said.

Ram Upendra Das, professor at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said the decision to expand the PTA with Chile has cleared the doubts about whether the government is in favour of bilateral trade agreements or not. “So far India’s trade balance with Chile was adverse. But with greater market access, India should be able to address the problem," he added.

The cabinet also approved signing of a memorandum of understanding between India and Bhutan on technical cooperation in the field of capacity building, benchmarking and bilateral exchange in infrastructure engineering.

mayank.a@livemint.com

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