Forest Committee approves scheme to ‘trade’ in forests

It allows Forest Department to outsource one of its responsibilities of reforesting to non-government agencies

Updated - January 09, 2020 11:18 pm IST

Published - January 09, 2020 11:03 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representational purpose only. File

Image for representational purpose only. File

The Forest Advisory Committee, an apex body tasked with adjudicating requests by the industry to raze forest land for commercial ends, has approved a scheme that could allow “forests” to be traded as a commodity. If implemented, it allows the Forest Department to outsource one of its responsibilities of reforesting to non-government agencies.

In the current system, industry needs to make good the loss of forest by finding appropriate non-forest land — equal to that which would be razed. It also must pay the State Forest Department the current economic equivalent — called Net Present Value — of the forest land. It’s then the Forest Department’s responsibility to grow appropriate vegetation that, over time, would grow into forests.

Industries have often complained that they find it hard to acquire appropriate non-forest land, which has to be contiguous to existing forest. Nearly ₹50,000 crore had been collected by the Centre over decades, but the funds were lying unspent because States were not spending the money on regrowing forests. The Supreme Court intervened, a new law came about with rules for how this fund was to be administered. About ₹47,000 crore had been disbursed to States until August, but it has barely led to any rejuvenation of forests.

‘Green Credit Scheme’

The proposed ‘Green Credit Scheme’, as it is called, allows agencies — they could be private companies, village forest communities — to identify land and begin growing plantations. After three years, they would be eligible to be considered as compensatory forest land if they met the Forest Department’s criteria. An industry needing forest land could then approach the agency and pay it for parcels of such forested land, and this would then be transferred to the Forest Department and be recorded as forest land.

“The participating agency will be free to trade its asset, that is plantation, in parcels, with project proponents who need forest land,” say the minutes of the meeting held on December 19, but which have just been made public. This is not the first time that such a scheme has been mooted. In 2015, a ‘Green Credit Scheme’ for degraded forest land with public-private participation was recommended, but it was not approved by the Union Environment Minister, the final authority.

‘Individuals outside’

“The FAC believes that such a scheme will encourage plantation by individuals outside the traditional forest area and will help in meeting international commitments such as sustainable development goals and nationally determined contributions,” the minutes note.

One of India’s prongs to combat climate change is the Green India Mission that aims to sequester 2.523 billion tonnes of carbon by 2020-30, and this involves adding 30 million hectares in addition to existing forest. “It does not solve the core problems of compensatory afforestation,” Kanchi Kohli, who is with the Centre for Policy Research and investigates forest rights, told The Hindu. “It creates problems of privatising multi-use forest areas as monoculture plantation plots. Forests are treated as a mere commodity without any social or ecological character.”

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