The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, also known as the CAMPA bill, which was passed last week by the RajyaSabha (Upper House) of the Indian Parliament will not just lead to more cutting offorests, but also compromise forest and indigenous communities rights. That the fund has accumulated a whopping Rs 42,000 crores during the last decade is worrying enough considering the huge amount of deforestation that this fund legitimizes. The idea being, deforest somewhere for industrial activities and then simply ask the deforesting party to pay a Net Present Value (the supposed cost of the lost forest) as compensation to afforest somewhere else. Ofcourse a forest doesn’t grow overnight, and its cost can hardly be measured in monetary terms alone. It is worrying that deforestation continueslegally at a rate of around 35,000 hectares (350 sqkms) every year in India, and CAMPA will encourage this trend.
As forest/indigenous groups and some parliamentarians pointed out, this Bill violates the Forest Rights Act 2006 (passed by the same Indian Parliament) in letter and spirit by undermining the rights and sovereignty of the forest communities and the gram sabha. It neither enforces their prior consent to activities falling under their jurisdiction nor involves them in forest protection and re-generation activities arising out of this fund.
A fundamental question arises – who should be compensated for lost forests and how should the money be spent?Instead of supporting forest communities to carry out conservation efforts and generate sustainable livelihoods, CAMPA empowers the forest bureaucracy. It creates a fund under the public accounts of national and state governments where money would be collected for various activities like compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation and money recovered on account of diversion of forests for non forest activities. To this end, Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authorities (CAMPA) have to be formed to utilize such money for undertaking artificial regeneration (usually monocultureplantations), forest related infrastructure development, Green India Programme, wildlife protection, and other activities.The success of these efforts is dubious at best,plantations are not forests for example. Currently, there is the huge amount lying unspent under an adhoc committee that has been administering this fund since 2004. The Supreme courtnoted in an order dated 26/9/2005 that a very large number of States had spent 50% or less amount on afforestation.Clearly forest regeneration is not a priority. Most of the spent funds have gone towards non-forest activities.
Forest groups don’t trust the forest bureaucracy. It has continuously subverted the Forest Rights Act and forest communities rights, and this massive money power will fuel the might of this incorrigibly corrupt bureaucracy to continue with its illegal program of forcefully relocating communities from wild life areas. It will further erode community controlin forests by imposing joint forest management and suppressing the people whose survival is linked toforests.
Accountability is a serious issue. In the notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests dated 23rd April 2004, it was clearly stated that CAMPA shall release monies in predetermined installments according to an Annual Plan of Operation (APO). In the present Bill, this accountability has been done away with it.
The greatest danger that this CAMPA Bill has unleashed is that it creates a system with top-heavy bureaucracy whose existence and survival depends on deforestation. A virtually unaccountable bureaucracy with little checks and balances, which can even procure guns and appoint armed guards, all in the name of forest protection. This parasitic system will seriously compromise the entire process of forest clearance and in essence will violate the spirit of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which was enacted to arrest fast depleting forest resources in this country.
With 42,000 crore rupees up for grabs and Rs.6,000 crore to be further distributed to state governments annually, this Bill has greed, compromise and conflict of interests, written all over it. The Bill has nothing to do with the well being of our forests and our forest people.And finally, it goes back on India’s commitment to an emerging global consensus on supporting community conservation initiatives and a call to halt deforestation by 2020. Our forest people who have already been protecting forests for generations as part of their age-old traditions, must instead be brought tothe forefront of all laws regarding forests, their regeneration and conservation.
Souparna Lahiri is currently a member of the All India Forum of Forest Movements and the Global Forest Coalition. Heis a veteran of the forest movement in India. Souparna is an anti-carbon trade activist and worked on exposing Clean Development Mechanism projects in India. He has also worked with communities resisting big hydro projects in north eastern India, monitored international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and its policies, worked on campaign for labor rights, defending human rights and rights and dignity of the street children in the past.