A conveyer belt of Vedanta that carries the bauxite, with the Niyamgiri in the backdrop. Place and date: Odisha ( October,2015)
Last year around this time I wrote a paper on Forest Right Act (2006) – The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – Who’s right and bestowed by whom? – looking at the postivies apects regarding the the rights that it bestwos to the tribal and indigeneous people and also the gaps in the act that dealt with the issues regarding the precedural requirment for the people to avail / assert their right. The gaps were stark especially given the sociological context and economic background of these communities. The critique was on how the act is still not rolled out completely.
The enactment of the act was an uphill task. To get this act to come into effect the biggest struggle the activitst working for these communities had was not with the industry but with the state forest departments. All the officicals of this department form the Conservator of Forests to the forest rangers were against this act because: they did not want to let go of their turf of power, where they wielded influence. In the garb of being custodians of forest, these department staff have been taking bribes from ( and at times exploiting) these tribals to gather minor forest produce from the forest they have inhabited and protected for generations together, and take bribe from the industries to allow them to do illegal activities. The allegations I make may sound quite activisty and blanket remark. But this is the experience of majority of the communities that dwell in and around forests. To descibe the attitude of the staff of Forest Department, a paper written about them in year 2000 still hold good. Donal M Schug in his paper (Bureaucratisation of Forest Management in India) talks about the internal culture of the department and how it has only been detrimental to both forest conversation and to the communities dependent on them. And in the minds of certain other bureaucrats from other departments, like a Rural Welfare Department office I met in Odisha ( in Octover 2015), they think giving rights on the forest to the communities by awarding individual rights, decreases the land cover under forest. And therefore they would rather award community forest rights to the whole village rather than individual rights. Eventually move to the strategy of awarding only community forest right rather than any individual rights at all. This attitude is only supportive to that of the forest department’s.
It has been more than 9 years since the enactment of the Forest Right Act and during a field visit conducted 8 months ago in Odisha it was found that not all the households and commutieis have secured their rights. Gujarat is the best performing state with respect to awarding the rights (both individual and community). The state has awarded to most percentage from the total applicants. Madhsudan Bandi in his paper looks at the implimentation of FRAs in further depth with respect to Gujarat and Chattisgarhh state.
Why is it importnat to look at the status of FRA implementation and the awarding of rights to the communities? The innate inefficiency with respect to roling out this act is a matter of seperate discussion. In this post I am trying to raise up this point in the light of the new Compensatory Afforestration Fund Bill, 2015,(known in short as CAF Bill) that was passed in the upper house (Rajya Sabha)and after it was passed in the the lower house ( Loksabha) of the parlimanent of India.
What is CAF all about, why did it come to exist?
(Excerpt from PRS Legislative Research )
Highlights of the Bill
- The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
- These Funds will receive payments for: (i) compensatory afforestation, (ii) net present value of forest (NPV), and (iii) other project specific payments. The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
- These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
- The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.Key Issues and Analysis
- The Bill establishes the Funds for compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. However, there are several factors (other than administration of funds) which affect compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. These factors are mentioned below.
- A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.
- Procuring land for compensatory afforestation is difficult as land is a limited resource, and is required for multiple purposes, such as agriculture, industry, etc. This is compounded by unclear land titles, and difficulties in complying with procedures for land use.
- A High Level Committee on Environment Laws observed that quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2014, with poor quality of compensatory afforestation plantations being one of the reasons behind the decline.
- The Bill delegates the determination of NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) to an expert committee constituted by the central government. As NPV constitutes about half of the total funds collected, its computation methodology would be important.
There are many issues regarding the bill, starting from the understanding of the word “compensation” by it, how the compensation is calculated, who is assigned to calculate the compensation among many other things. But in the context of FRA the issue is of the rights of Forest. The CFA does not have any text regarding how is is going to be implemented without making the FRA redundant.
To summarise in short:CFA has taken the forest rights from the tribals & forest dwellers and slyly placed it back in the hands of forest department.
How did it do it: In the version fo the bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha there was no rule that acknowledged the power of the local self governing body – Panchayat or the Gram Sabha on their say in how the forest will be dealt with. This is in direct conflict with what FRA and the PESA act bestows upon these communities.
These points of concern were raised by the opposition party to the the finance minister and environment minster of the ruling party. Their concerns were placated by saying these will be addressed once the bill was “passed” in the Rajya Sabha.
The role of the local self governing bodies is not codified in the CFA act and the implementation of FRA is still far from complete. The attitude of the Forest department still remains that of the owners of the forest, rather than custodians. What is the government going at? Is it a game to ammend constitution and make permanent promise to marginalized lot, just to make another new ammendment that trumps the older promise? If this is some sort of a joke, it is a cruel one at that.