India’s forests: Whose land is it anyway? [Environment, Governance]
- India has at least 400 million people directly or indirectly dependent on forests for their livelihood. However, their rights and the benefi ts generated are often not recorded in government records.
- The Forest Rights Act of 2006 tries to do so. It requires that everyone, including the forest department, take the consent of tribal gram sabhas before doing anything on their land. They wanted this veto power to be imposed for plantations and utilisation of the CAF as well.
- People use multiple forest resources, unlike forest departments which prefer soft wood or hard wood timber, also needed by wood-based industry. Forest communities have previously been displaced to secure tenure for plantations, controlled by forest bureaucracy management plans.
- The Centre has over Rs 40,000 crore already under the the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF), collected since 2006 under a Supreme Court order from industries and others which have built projects on forest land. Ninety per cent of this will be returned to states. The Centre would use the rest in overall management of forests and afforestation.
- In future, annually, the states should collectively get between Rs 2,000 crore and Rs 6,000 crore. Those which permit more forests to be cut will get more cash in return to grow plantations.
- The logic behind CAF was to levy a cost on use of forest land. Forests are largely under government control and there was no mechanism before this to evaluate the cost of land or the resources being diverted.
- The hope was that charging a price for forest land, and for the economic and ecological services of forests, would help draw a better cost/benefi t analysis of alternative project sites.
- Another purpose of the fund was to help restore the health of other forest patches and to grow plantations to compensate for the green cover lost to development activity. However, critiques and environmental experts are clear that plantations are no replacement for natural forests.