With around R40,000 crore lying unspent with the ad hoc body created by a Supreme Court order in 2006 to manage afforestation funds—the idea is to afforest land equal to that where a forest is being cleared for industrial purposes—Parliament clearing of the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Bill is good news. Till CAMPA got passed, while the concept of releasing funds to state governments for afforestation was well accepted, very little really got transferred—that’s how CAMPA has the corpus it has accumulated. Undivided Andhra Pradesh, for instance, has got the largest amount of money in the country, but has got only around R500-600 crore for afforestation, a pittance in comparison to what is needed.
Various problems have been flagged in relation to CAMPA, from the afforestation not taking into account native flora and fauna to trampling on the rights of tribals under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and even allowing afforestation money to be used for other purposes. Some of the criticism is valid and has to be addressed as early as possible, but the important thing to keep in mind is that CAMPA does not trample upon the rights under various Acts such as FRA or the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 which gives gram sabhas the right to allow/block industrial and other projects. If, for instance, the land chosen for afforestation—typically, contiguous to the forest which is being stripped for an industrial project—is one on which tribals have made a claim for land under the FRA, that right does not get taken away under CAMPA; it still has to be either given or rejected. All that CAMPA is doing is to make sure that the R4.5 lakh per hectare fixed as compensation in terms of poor quality forests—and R10.43 lakh per hectare in the case of dense forests—is given to the state for afforestation work; indeed, if the amount is found to be inadequate, it needs to be increased. If tribals reject an industrial project under PESA, that project doesn’t get the go-ahead because of CAMPA.
Similarly, if CAMPA allows funds to be used for general afforestation, forest management, wildlife-related infrastructure development, conservation or facilitating the relocation of people from protected wildlife areas, that cannot be a bad thing. For one, afforestation is not just a matter of planting trees, relocation of people is an important part of a forest eco-system. Also, in some of the heavily-forested, smaller states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the availability of enough non-forest land poses a significant hurdle—providing alternate channels of expenditure only safeguards the rights of these states over their share of the CAMPA funds. As in any Act, CAMPA has shortcomings which need to be addressed—indeed, new challenges will be discovered over a period of time—but not passing it was no solution.