While everyone’e attention is focused on the fate of the NDA’s land acquisition bill, another bill has been quietly introduced in Parliament that will have similar implications for lakhs of India’s poorest communities – tribals and other forest dwellers.
The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, deals with how an enormous sum of money – more than Rs. 38,000 crores – should be managed. This money has been collected from projects that have taken over forest land. With more and more forest land being diverted, the money is growing in leaps and bounds. The Bill’s provisions, in short, say:
The money should be managed by forest officials through state and central bodies. There will be no representation or accountability to those living in or dependent on forest lands.
The money – which was collected ostensibly to replace destroyed forests – can be spent on “forest management, forest protection, infrastructure development, wildlife protection and management, supply of wood and other forest produce saving devices and other allied activities.” The Bill also permits using the money for “schemes” which “include any institute, society, centre of excellence in the field of forest and wildlife, pilot schemes, standardisation of codes and guidelines and such other related activities for the forestry and wildlife sector”. In other words, the State Forest Departments can spend this money entirely on themselves. In their existing incarnation, have been spent on everything from jeeps and laptops to tourism lodges and guns.
Much of the money is to be spent on plantations. In 2013 the CAG found giant irregularities in spending of compensatory afforestation funds. After evaluating plantations done in 2008, the agency found that only 11% of plantations actually survived, and in many cases no plantation was actually done. Records were mostly incomplete, funds had been spent on activities not permitted under the Rules, and so on. The findings in CAG report have been corroborated by monitoring studies done by independent researchers as well as by state forest departments.
Rather than address any of these issues, the new Bill seeks to simply legitimize such fraud and hand over far more money to the same Forest Departments that engaged in the earlier scam.
Besides, in practice, compensatory afforestation has become a pretext for taking over the common lands (and in some cases private lands) of forest dwellers across the country (in violation of the Forest Rights Act and the Supreme Court’s judgement on common lands). At a time when the Forest Rights Act is not being implemented, huge funds are to be handed over to the very agencies who are blocking it. This was the main reason that, in 2008, an almost identical earlier version of this Bill was unanimously rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. This form of de facto, massive land acquisition has triggered conflicts across the country, including violence in many areas.
Campaign For Survival and Dignity (CSD) and All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM) are all-India level platforms of tribal and forest dwellers’ movements. We strongly condemn this bill and call upon the government to immediately withdraw it. Instead of funneling thousands of crores to unaccountable bureaucrats grabbing community lands, we need a comprehensive legislation that recognises and respects the right of forest dwelling communities to democratically manage forests and forest lands, including both diversion and compensatory afforestation.
CAMPAIGN FOR SURVIVAL AND DIGNITY
ALL INDIA FORUM OF FOREST MOVEMENTS (AIFFM)
Pravin Mote, C/o Nishant Mate, Vidya Niwas 6 L Marg, Chandramani Nagar, Nagpur, Maharashtra 440027.Ph: 09373928263
Devjit Nandi, A-102, Sai Niwas-Torwa, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh-495004