Thursday, 28 July 2016

Afforestation fund tap opens for states

he Rajya Sabha passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, on Thursday permitting the Centre to return Rs 36,125 crore to states that had lost forest cover to industrialisation and growth since 2006. The passage of the Bill would also ensure an annual fund flow to states, estimated at Rs 2,000-Rs 4,000 crore. Union environment, forests and climate change minister Anil Madhav Dave told the House the rights of tribals
and other forest-dwellers would not be violated. Some opposition parties had raised concerns about this. The compensatory afforestation fund was created by the government in 2006 under an order of the Supreme Court. The fund was collected at a pre-fixed rate from industries, miners and others who use forestland for their projects. But, under the court orders, the money that could be released to states was limited. Till date, Rs 40,139 crore has been collected. In 2013, a scathing Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the mismanagement of the funds had triggered the need for the passage of a law and the fund was brought within the Consolidated Fund of India. The CAG had found the money had been misused and the compensatory afforestation, meant to be done with the money, had largely not taken place. The Bill provides for repatriating 90 per cent of the funds collected to the respective states. The rest would be used by the Centre for management and supervision. The states would get to use the fund for afforestation, wildlife management and other forest-related activities. Minister Dave said in the House, "Now we shall be able to return the funds and benefit to those states that have suffered greater loss of forests." He gave an assurance to the opposition that their concerns would be addressed though he fell short of what the Congress, Left and some other opposition parties and tribal activist groups had demanded. They had asked for a prior informed consent from tribals and other forest-dwellers' gram sabhas before the money was spent on their traditional lands. But the minister assured rules would be framed after consulting with the stakeholders - stopping short of giving a veto power, like the one under the Forest Rights Act, for tribals and other forest-dwellers. He promised the House that in case the rules were not found adequate, these could be revisited after a year or so.

The biggest gainer from the release of the funds would now be Odisha, which would get nearly Rs 6,000 crore right away. The next largest beneficiary would be Chhattisgarh, which would receive Rs 3,891 crore.


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