ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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No Compensation, No Forests

The law on compensatory afforestation will only help those destroying forests.

There is no way to compensate for the destruction of a natural forest. That is a lesson that ought to have been learned long before we in India began discussing the idea of “compensatory” afforestation. From the beginning, the concept was fraught because it was premised on the belief that if you replace one hectare of dense foliage with another hectare planted with trees, you have compensated for the loss of a forest. That a natural forest is much more than the trees it hosts, that it is a repository of biodiversity, that it plays a crucial role in replenishing underground water aquifers, that it is now recognised as a vital carbon sink for greenhouse gases, and that above all it has been the home for millions of forest dwellers is still not appreciated by those who make policies to compensate for the loss of these natural forests. Few parliamentarians would have thought about this as they passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill 2016 last month.

The bill emerged from the accumulation of funds with the government for the purpose of compensatory afforestation. If standing forests are diverted for “non-forest purposes”, which include mining, dams, highways and other infrastructure, the entities involved have to pay the government so that the loss of forests can be compensated by afforestation elsewhere. The amount paid is calculated on the basis of the net present value (NPV) of the forests diverted, which ranges from ₹5 lakh to ₹11 lakh per hectare depending on the density of the forests. This calculation is based on the understanding that it takes 50 years for a forest to revert to its original state. By last year, the government had collected in excess of ₹40,000 crore. In 2002, on the directions of the Supreme Court, the government was compelled to set up the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) that after further prodding from the apex court finally began functioning in 2006. A law, similar to the one passed, was framed in 2008 but did not clear both houses of Parliament. As a result, in 2009, an ad hoc committee had to be set up to manage the fund.

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