Unutilised funds, uncollected NPVs hinder afforestation drive

Issues of mis-management, and worse, in the forestry sector that have been highlighted in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report have a true resonance on the ground in all the four southern States, a quick analysis has found.

In Andhra Pradesh, large sums released by Centre’s Ad-hoc Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning (CAMPA) to the State CAMPA remain unutilised. Of the Rs. 329.09 crore received between 2009 and 2012, only Rs. 247.26 was spent. All of 25 per cent remains unutilised.

The CAG has observed that though the percentage of expenditure did increase progressively over the last three years, concerns over the absorptive capacity of the State remain, considering that Rs. 2,359 crore is accumulated with Ad-hoc CAMPA in the compensatory afforestation fund for the State. This can be released only for specified forestry related activities.

There were as many as 22 cases involving forest land, running to an extent of 1,053 hectares, where Net Present Value (NPV) working out (audit estimates) to Rs. 61.08 crore was not collected from user-agencies.

Plight in Kerala

With regard to Kerala, the report has highlighted serious irregularities with respect to compensatory afforestation. These include the State’s failure to carry out compensatory afforestation either over non-forest land or degraded forest land.

The report puts Kerala in the company of Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Punjab and Rajasthan – which have also failed in carrying out compensatory afforestation programmes.

Diversion in Karnataka

In Karnataka, if the Lokayukta’s report on the Bellary mining scam had indicted the State government for administrative lapses, the CAG report has put the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in the hot seat.

The CAG report cites examples of irregularities in the diversion of forest land to mining companies in Bellary, of improper monitoring of projects, and inaction by the MoEF even when environmental violations were brought to its notice by the Ministry’s own regional offices.

During a test check of records at the regional office in Bangalore, the CAG found instances where mining activity went on for years in Bellary without forestry clearances from MoEF. Tungabhadra Minerals, for example, operated over 232 ha of forest land between September 1990 to January 1997 without the MoEF’s permission.

Tamil Nadu’s failure

The report indicts Tamil Nadu for failing to realise the NPV in seven cases, involving 107.40 ha, which works out to Rs 6.23 crore.

According to the CAG report, going by a satellite image from 2008-09, Tamil Nadu has 23,62,500 ha of forest land. This works out to 18.16 per cent of the State’s total geographical area of 1,30,05,800 ha, while the envisaged mission is to have 33 per cent green cover. Of the forest area, 2,94,800 ha constitutes very dense forest, 10,32,100 moderately dense and 10,35,600 is open forest. The State has seen an increase in forest cover to the extent of 4,600 ha, as per an assessment made in 2011.

(K.Venkateswarlu in Hyderabad, K.S. Sudhi in Kochi, Divya Gandhi in Bangalore, V.S. Palaniappan in Coimbatore)