Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

[op-ed snap] The right way to save India’s forests


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies & interventions for development in various sectors & issues arising out of their design & implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CAF Act, 2016, Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, CAG

Mains level: Issues related to forest conservation

Concerns related to compensatory afforestation

  1. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAF Act), 2016 has raised serious concerns about the human and environmental costs of compensatory afforestation (CA)
  2. Evidence establishes that CA plantations
  • Destroy natural forests
  • Harm biodiversity
  • Undermine the rights and nutrition of local communities and
  • Disguise rampant misuse of public funds

Act encourages bureaucratic encroachment

  1. The Act enables the forest bureaucracy to entrench its control over forests
  2. It can subvert democratic forest governance established by the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (Pesa), 1996

Commercial plantations in name of afforestation

  1. Case studies of CA plantation sites in Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh reveals that 60% of these are monocultural commercial plantations, sometimes set up in the name of “forests”
  2. These plantations have been carried out over forest lands both claimed and titled under the FRA, and even over dense natural forests
  3. The consent of these communities has not been sought, violating their legal rights and leading to livelihood distress

Shortcomings in the act

  1. The Act lacks a mechanism to monitor expenditure of funds
  2. The comptroller and auditor general (CAG) report, 2013 had found massive misutilization by the forest department (FD)
  3. This prompted the finance ministry to object to the direct disbursal of funds through the public fund

Solution to this problem

  1. Repeal of, or amendments to, the CAF Act
  2. Adopting a framework of democratic forest governance as per the FRA as the principal approach for the governance of CA
  3. Forest Survey of India reports show that forest cover in tribal districts, constituting 60% of the country’s total forest cover
  4. It is well-established that communities are the best stewards for the governance and conservation of forests

Way forward

  1. The government needs to look no further than the FRA to reorient the current CA approach and meet its goals of ecological restoration
  2. The CAF Act needs to be integrated with the FRA and PESA by centering the role of gram sabhas and incorporating land and forest rights guarantees
  3. Government should promote community-led conservation initiatives
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