Insights into Editorial: Growing Forests January 7, 2018 Insights into Editorial: Growing Forests Context: More than a year after Parliament passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 (CAF), the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) is yet to roll out the mandatory rules to implement it. In fact, the ministry in November asked an extension till January 3, 2018. The disclosure in Parliament that the Centre is not ready with the rules to implement the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act, 2016 demonstrates that the government’s resolve to meet a variety of environmental objectives remains woefully weak. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 Act provides for the establishment of funds under the public accounts of India and the public accounts of each State which will be used for compensatory afforestation. It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Levies are imposed on development projects that seek land inside a Reserved Forest or a Protected Area (PA) in a sanctuary or a national park. These collected levies are accrued in the CAMPA Funds which are to be utilised to plant trees elsewhere in order to compensate the loss of forest due to development projects. Salient features of the Act It seeks to establish the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state. The payments into the funds include compensatory afforestation, NPV, and any project specific payments. The National Fund will get 10% of funds collected and the remaining 90% will go to respective State Fund. The collected funds will be utilised for afforestation, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wild life protection and infrastructure development. The act also seeks to establish National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the funds. The determination of NPV will be delegated to an expert committee constituted by the central government. NPV quantifies the services provided by the forest. It includes goods and services (tourism and timber); regulating services (climate change); and none-material benefits (recreation). It seeks to provide safety, security and transparency in utilization of CAMPA funds which are currently kept in Nationalized Banks and managed by an ad-hoc body. These funds would be brought under the focus of Parliament and State Legislatures by transferring them to non-lapsable interest bearing funds. What is happening in the absence of rules? In the absence of the rules, forest departments in at least 15 states are undertaking afforestation as per the state CAF guidelines released by MoEF&CC in 2009, which are silent on the fundamental question of what kind of land—forest or revenue—can be used for carrying out the drives. As a result they are using the funds under CAF to take charge of forestlands that are being considered for community ownership and management, under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA). At present, the fund under the Act, which makes afforestation compulsory to compensate for the forestland diverted for non-forest purposes, has Rs 42,000 crore of which 10 per cent should be with the National CAMPA and the remaining with the state CAMPAs. For instance, Odisha forest department is using CAF to fence land over which local communities have claimed rights. Then they are using the land for plantations. Several hectares were compensated there, but only with patchy outcomes: healthy monoculture plantations having low biodiversity value came up in some places, while others resulted in unhealthy plantations with few trees. The exploitation by the state forest departments could have been avoided if the ministry had released the rules in time. Why is a new scientific national plan to expand good green cover essential? Putting in place a scientific national plan to expand good green cover is essential, since the sequestration of carbon through sustainably managed forests is a key component of the commitment made under the Paris Agreement. There is already a Green India Mission, which is distinct from the framework envisaged for compensatory afforestation. What the Centre needs to do is to enable independent audit of all connected programmes, in order to sensibly deploy the financial resources now available. It must be emphasised, however, that replacing a natural forest with a plantation does not really serve the cause of nature, wildlife, or the forest-dwelling communities who depend on it, because of the sheer loss of biodiversity. Yet, there is immense potential to augment the services of forests through a careful choice of plants and trees under the afforestation programme. The Supreme Court has directed that, besides artificial regeneration (Plantations), the Fund shall also be utilised for undertaking assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, infrastructure development, wildlife protection and other related activities and an independent system of concurrent monitoring and evaluation should be evolved and implemented through the Compensatory Afforestation Fund to ensure effective and proper utilisation of funds. Way Forward All this can make a beginning only with the actualisation of the law passed in 2016. It is worth pointing out that the method used to calculate the net present value of forests, taking into account all ecosystem services they provide, is far from perfect, as many scientists point out. Concerns over its discordances with FRA, lack of livelihood generation and eviction and poor participation of local communities during compensatory afforestation drives should be addressed. Some of the momentum for compensatory afforestation has come from judicial directives, but now that there is a new law in place, it should be given a foundation of rules that rest on scientific credibility.