2 years after enacting law, Centre unlocks Rs 66,000 crore green fund


NEW DELHI, August 13: Unlocking a fund of more than Rs 66,000 crore to increase the country’s green cover, the Centre has finally notified the rules for utilization of the money by states and Union Territories, and for setting up authorities to monitor its use for afforestation and conservation. The rules have been framed two years after a law to this effect was enacted.
The fund is an accumulated amount of money which user agencies have been depositing as compensation for diverting forest land for non-forest purposes, including industries and infrastructure, over the last 10 years.
The rules, notified on Friday, specify that 80% of the compensatory afforestation amount will be utilized by states for plantations, assisted natural regeneration of forests, forest fire prevention, pest and disease control in forest, soil and moisture conservation works and improvement of wildlife habitat, among others, in the list of 13 permissible activities.
The remaining 20% will be used for 11 listed works to strengthen forest and wildlife protection related infrastructure.
The list includes third-party monitoring of works, forest certification, development of certification standards and casual hiring of local people to assist forest department staff. “The move will help India re-green its forest and non-forest areas which have lost trees due to forest diversions – amounting to more than 1.3 million hectares after the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 kicked in – for allowing various developmental activities,” said Ajay Kumar Saxena, deputy director of the Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests.
Though the legislation – Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act – to utilize the money was passed by Parliament in July 2016, it could not be implemented in absence of enabling rules within the Act for two years. As a result, only Rs 14,418 crore out of Rs 80,716 crore had been disbursed to states and UTs under a temporary and time-consuming mechanism till March 31.
The remaining Rs 66,298 crore has, therefore, been lying unspent with an ad hoc Compensatory
Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) created by a Supreme Court order in 2009.
Among states, Odisha has the highest share (Rs 9,725 crore) in the accumulated fund, followed by
Chhattisgarh (Rs 7,288 crore), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 6,353 crore), Jharkhand (Rs 5,193 crore), Maharashtra (Rs 5,029 crore), Uttarakhand (Rs 3,801 crore) and Andhra Pradesh (Rs 3,668 crore). The amount also shows the extent of diversion of forest land in these states for development activities.
Since the rules for utilisation of the fund have been notified, the unspent amount will now be transferred to the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund at the Centre and the respective State Compensatory Afforestation Funds in a phased manner, depending on its utilisation. The national and state funds – both non-lapsable – can be utilised for only the activities listed under the CAF Act.
Referring to the listed activities, Saxena said, “Third-party monitoring, forest certification and development of certification standards will be crucial and will go a long way to ensure that compensatory afforestation actually delivers on what it is expected to.”
Besides enlisting the 24 activities which are to be taken up using the fund, the rules also specify that the working plan will be taken up “in consultation with the gram sabha or village forest management committee”. (TNN)