The Congress and the BJP reached a compromise on Wednesday, clearing the decks for the passage of the long-pending Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, which is critical to the disbursement of nearly Rs. 42,000 crore to States for afforestation purposes.
At a meeting between Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and former UPA Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, it was decided that the Bill that was approved by the Lok Sabha on May 4 would not be referred to a select parliamentary committee.
“Our concerns on the FRA [Forest Rights Act] will be explicitly referred in the rules and the Environment Minister will give some assurances in his reply on the Bill in the House,” Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu , confirming that a compromise was reached and that the Congress would help the government in the passage of the Bill in the Upper House.
Earlier in the day, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke on the phone with Mr. Jaitley, initiating the process for narrowing differences between the two sides on the Bill. After this, Mr. Ramesh and a couple of other senior Congress leaders met Mr. Jaitley and thrashed out the technical issues.
“The Government and the Congress are now on the same page on the Bill ... there are no more hurdles,” said a source present at the meeting.
The Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha during the UPA government’s tenure but was in cold storage after opposition in the Rajya Sabha. It was again cleared by the Lok Sabha this year after incorporating amendments from several parties including the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress.
Mr. Ramesh, in the Rajya Sabha, then wanted an amendment to the Bill that would ensure that afforestation activities would be undertaken only after making sure that the land did not belong to tribals or forest dwellers, who are eligible, under the Forest Rights Act, to claim ownership over the forest land they live on or are dependent on it for their livelihood.
He told The Hindu that he would still move this amendment but the Bill was through for all practical purposes.
The Bill was moved in the Rajya Sabha on Monday by Environment Minister Anil Dave, but several Congress leaders stalled proceedings protesting that there were unresolved issues.
The move to proceed on the Bill follows the statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the last day of the previous session, in which he had told the retiring members of the Rajya Sabha that they would probably have felt greater satisfaction had the House succeeded in approving two crucial Bills — the constitution amendment Bill for the roll out of the Goods and Services Tax and another one for setting up the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
The CAF Bill proposes to set up the CAMPA that will administer an accumulated corpus that has, over the years, collected money from several projects that have diverted forest land for infrastructure development projects. The money would be used to regenerate forest and specific conservation activities.