Compensatory afforestation? It wouldn’t be easy doing it without Gram Sabha consent

campa.jpgBy Dr Manohar Chauhan*

The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) bill has been passed and will become an Act soon, but will face obstructions from many fronts. It is argued that not much land is available for carrying out plantation under CAMPA fund in states since most of the community land (both forest and revenue land) recorded as Government land is under individual occupation and possession of the community people and is awaiting recognition under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 and other revenue laws. Besides, there will be strong protests when the Forest Department tries to take up plantation on the degraded forest land within the Community Forest Resources (CFR) area without taking consent of the concerned Gram Sabha.

CAMPA Fund Bill

Despite protests both inside and outside of Parliament, the NDA Government at the Centre has successfully passed the CAMPA Fund Bill, 2016 on the last day of the session, 28th July 2016, and probably the rules to implement the Act will be prepared soon. Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF) Anil Dave stressed its urgency. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in May 2015, and after the opposition’s demands it was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on 13th May which submitted its report on February 26, 2016 with certain amendments.

Since the government accepted most of the suggestions (20 of the 26) of the standing committee, the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May 2016. However, the bill was blocked in the Rajya Sabha in the last Parliamentary Session when Congress Party through Jairam Ramesh brought in amendments. The major concern expressed was that “the bill does not empower forest dwellers, tribals and gram sabhas” while spending the CAMPA money. While pushing the amendment Jairam Ramesh had said, “The funds under CAMPA should be used after getting the nod from gram sabhas as also mandated under Forest Rights Act, 2006.”

But the NDA Government could convince the opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha. Anil Dave assured the opposition parties that the provisions of the Bill will neither dismiss nor supersede the system of Panchayati Raj and its decisions. The government has assured the House that the rights of tribals and gram sabhas will be taken care of when rules are framed. “Gram sabhas, traditional forest dwellers will be included in the discussions on how CAMPA should he used. We will make such a provision in the rules once the law is made. If it is still found inadequate, we will review it in a year or so,” he assured. After his assurance, the Congress party did not move amendments to the Bill in the Rajya sabha resulting smooth passage of the Bill on 28th July 2016.

The Background and States’ share of CAMPA Fund  

The CAMPA fund was created under the direction of the Supreme Court in 2004. This fund has been accumulated out of money received for diversion of forest land for non-forest use across the states. In the absence of stipulated authorities at the Centre and states, more than Rs 42,000 crore has been lying unspent with this ad-hoc CAMPA. Thus the bill passed in Parliament aims to restock and improve quality of degraded forests, which constitutes more than 40% of the total forest cover of the country. The funds will be primarily spent to compensate for the loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.

The Bill passed in Parliament seeks permanent institutional mechanism for utilisation of fund collected by States and Union territories and provides to establish a National Fund for Compensatory Afforestation under the Public Accounts of India and a State Fund under the public account of each state. The objective of these institutions is to ensure safety, security and to expedite utilisation of fund in a transparent manner. Besides, the Act provides for independent system of convergent monitoring and evaluation system of CAMPA money spent by State governments.

As per the provision in the Bill, the National Fund will receive 10% of the money collected towards compensatory afforestation and related payments, while the remaining 90% will go to various state funds. “We are giving money to those who have lost in the race of development,” Anil Dave told in the upper house. The State which has diverted maximum forest land would be getting maximum of the CAMPA fund accumulated over the period. Thus, the biggest beneficiaries of the new green fund would be Odisha, which has diverted around 14,000 hectares of forest land for non-forest use during 2005-14. As per the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) estimate, Odisha would be the biggest gainer with close to Rs 6,000 crore, followed by Madhya Pradesh (Rs.3,469 crore), Jharkhand (Rs 3,099 crore), Maharashtra (Rs 2,433 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 2,223 crore), Uttarakhand (Rs 2,210 crore) Arunachal Pradesh (Rs1462 crore), Rajasthan (Rs 1,425 crore), Himachal Pradesh (Rs 1395 crore), Uttar Pradesh(Rs 1,314 crore) Uttar Pradesh (Rs 1,314 crore), Gujarat (Rs.1100 crore, Jammu & Kashmir(Rs 926 crore) and Karnataka(Rs 917 crore), etc.

Issues and upcoming obstructions

While forest department officials across the States feel that the CAMPA fund will foster forest conservation, regeneration and wildlife protection and will help them take up GPS surveys for data gathering and install protection walls to guard prime forest locations, forest rights activists have questioned the very rationale of the bill. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), a coalition of grassroots tribal and forest dwellers organisation, which played a vital role in the enactment of FRA, 2006 called the day 28th July (passing of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha) as “black day” for tribals and the forest dwellers of the country. It says, “India’s new law facilitates displacement without any accountability to the people whose forests, lands and lives will be damaged or destroyed.”

CSD strongly questioned the integrity of the statement of the Minister, MoEF, wondering how the Government could bring in a provision in rules when things are not clearly spelt out in the Act. It is alleged that if the Government of India is sensitive towards tribals and forest dwellers, then why did it object to the amendments brought by Jairam Ramesh in the Rajya Sabha which was simply proposing to give respect the FRA, 2006 which provides for community rights over CFR areas.

The biggest question with regard to CAMPA fund is, where would the plantation be done? As per the 1980 Forest Conservation Act, if one acre of forest land is diverted to non-forest use, the same amount of revenue land needs to be notified as protected forest and plantation has to be done over there, and the plantation area would be doubled if it is done on a degraded forest land. In this context, it is argued that it would not be so easy for the State governments to take up plantation using CAMPA fund. The conflict between individuals and the Forest Department and Gram Sabha and the Forest Department is going to accelerate due to the following reasons:

  1. Incomplete Implementation of individual forest rights (IFR) under FRA, 2006;
  2. Individual occupation and possession of revenue land by landless people; and
  3. Conflict Between Gram Sabha and Forest Department during plantation in the CFR area.

Incomplete Implementation of FRA, 2006

As per the latest report of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), Government of India, by April, 2016,  43,07,154 individual forest right (IFR) claims have been filed at the Gram Sabha level and 17,00,786 individual forest rights titles have been recognised (distributed) over 6,891,361 acres of forest land in 17 States, i.e Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal etc. It means if we roughly calculate, 20, 06, 368 individuals are occupying over 81,25790.4 acres of forest land in these States. Of course most of their claims have been shown rejected. But they are physically occupying and cultivating these lands. Besides, news reports say that eight out of every 10 claims for land by tribals in the last year has been rejected (http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/states-rejected-8-out-of-every-10-claims-for-land-by-tribals-last-year/story-XQPbGCTCWvJHhj1ZMpzvaPM.html) without showing proper reasons.

Likewise in Odisha, where the highest number of IFR titles have been issued in comparison to other states, it is reported that by 30th June 2016, 6,12,864 IFR claims have been filed at the Gram Sabha level and 3,78,675 IFR titles have been issued (distributed) over 5,80,040.92 acres of forest land. Thus, in Odisha alone 2,34, 189 people are occupying over 3,58,309.17 acres of forest land. Out of these, 1,55,914 IFR claims are shown rejected and 47,171 claims are shown pending at different levels. However, not a single claimant, nor any Gram Sabha, has been duly informed of the rejected IFR claims as per the Sections 14 and 15 of the FRA and they have been deprived from filing appeals.

Besides, it has been complained across States that despite occupation over forest land thousands of OTFDs have been deprived of filing IFR claims before the concerned Gram Sabha due to the rumour spread by Government officials that they are ineligible under FRA, 2006. For example, in Kandhamal district of Odisha, not a single OTFDs has been allowed to file IFR claims which is quite evident from the IFR data reported by Kandhamal DLC. By June 2016, 60,346 IFR claims were filed at the Gram Sabha level and 57,657 IFR titles were issued over 87,227 acres of forest land.

Besides, there are serious problems over the IFR titles reported to have been recognised across States. In all most all States, demarcation of the actual forest land under occupation and claimed has not been considered and IFR titles have been issued haphazardly issued. Many states governments including Odisha have used FRA as a land distribution schemes, IFR claims over reserve forest, Podu land were discouraged and were not considered. As said earlier, IFR claims of the OTFDs have been discouraged and denied, the real authority, the Gram Sabha was looked downed by government officials and their power to verify IFR claims, approve IFR claims and to take independent resolution were usurped. (In Odisha, in the whole IFR recognition process, the crucial and empowered role of Gram Sabha have put the blame of rejecting around 1 lakh IFR claims.

Besides, while forest land is available in all most revenue villages of States and whoever is occupying the land over that land before 13th December 2005 is eligible to get IFR rights over that land, in almost all states, FRA implementation has been limited to forest and tribal concentrated villages only, depriving large number of eligible claimants in different villages inhabited 300 to 500 years.

Individual Occupation over Revenue Land

Since no constitutional provisions/laws other than Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996 i\and FRA in 2006 could respect and recognise the Gram Sabha as “authority” of its resources before, Gram Sabha could not manage and regulate and control these common/community lands. As result most of the community lands were encroached upon/occupied by individuals in villages without any fear. As a result the same situation prevails over revenue common lands mostly recorded as (government land) in a revenue village.

And leaving some exceptional cases, since most of the encroachers of revenue land are marginal land holders, they are legally landless and are eligible to get one standard acre of land under Odisha Land Reform Act, 1960, the Orissa Prevention of Land Encroachment Act (OPLE), 1972 and under the Orissa Government land Settlement Act (OGLS),1962 etc . In Odisha-One Standard acre is defined as in the Orissa Land Reforms Act, 1960, as unit of measurement of land equivalent to one acres of Class I land (irrigated land with two or more crops a year, one and a half acres of class II land (irrigated land with one crop a year), and three acres of Class III land (un-irrigated land used for single crop of paddy) and four and a half acres of class IV land (Any other land).

However, despite of the fact that the so called government land are very much under possession of the eligible landless to get rights over that occupied land, the process of notification of those revenue land as protected forest against forest land diverted for non-forest purposes under 1980s Forest Conservation Act is vested upon the district collector. Under the laws there is no scope for the landless encroacher to establish the right over that the patch of land over which he/she occupied it for generations, nor there is there any role of the Gram Sabha, which is the real authority over that common land in scheduled 5th area.

Thus, there are serious lacunae in the process of notifying revenue land as protected forest against diversion of forest land for non-forest uses. For example despite occupation and dependency of community people over common land, 395.76 hectares, 210.441 hectares and 54.548 hectares of revenue land (mostly of dangar kissam) of villages like Sindhipadar, Sirimaka and Nichemaska of Sindhipadar Gram Panchayat have been notified as Protected Forests in Thualum Rampur block of Kalahandi district against the forest land diverted to the Vedanta Company. Such notification has been done in Sundargarh, Keunjhar and Angul, Rayagarda district, where huge forest lands have been diverted for non-forest purposes. Besides, in many districts, i.e. Koraput, Mlakkangiri, Kalahandi, Deogarh, Keunjhar, Rayagarda etc. in Odisha, Individual forest rights titles have been issued over non-forest revenue land.

Thus any attempt to evict the person occupying over forest land or any other revenue land by any Government agency without taking confidence of Gram Wabha would lead to bloodshed in the villages as happened in 16th July 2016 night in Bausabedd village in Umarkot Block of Nabarangpur district in Odisha where two people (one SC and one ST) were killed due to land disputes.

Thus, the Parliamentary Standing Committee, in its 277th report, had rightly observed that there might be a situation where not enough land may be available for afforestation purposes. To address this contingency, it was recommended a specific provision in the bill “for encouraging densification and revitalisation of available forest closest to areas where deforestation is considered unavoidable on account of critically important national projects.”

More Conflicts between Gram Sabha and Forest Department ahead of Plantation in the CFR area

Besides conflicts over the individual-occupied forest land, there is a possibility of serious conflict between the forest department and the Gram Sabha ahead of plantation under CAMPA fund. It is understood that before the enactment and implementation of FRA, 2006 plantations were carried out by the Forest Department in the forest area with the help of Vana Surakshya Samitees (VSS) formed under Joint Forest Management Resolution (JFM) 1990s. Under JFM, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) were signed between Gram Sabha and the Forest Department. Under JFM, the forest official (forester/forest guard) is the ex-officio secretary of VSS and the villagers were kept as President and members having no powers.

The forest department used to control over the VSS and so also all the activities, i.e. plantation and construction works controlling the financial power. As a result, despite protests by individual and many a time by Gram Sabhas, they mostly used the VSS presidents as rubber stamp and could successfully carry out the plantation programmes in the village area under different schemes including, CAMPA fund.

There is huge evidence from the past of evictions of thousands of tribals and forest dwellers by the Forest Department using VSS from their occupied forest land due to plantation using CAMPA fund, MGNRGS fund, National Afforestation Fund etc., and depriving them from their genuine rights. Besides, despite reservations at the Gram Sabha level, selection of plantation species like “teak” have been dominated by the forest department.

But in the CAMPA Fund Bill, 2016 duly passed both by the Lok Sabha and by the Rajya Sabha on 28th July, there is no mention of any role either of the Gram Sabha or of VSS formed by the Forest Department under JFM which have lost its legality after enactment of FRA, 2006. It has been a great irony for the Forest department that the word “VSS” too is neither mentioned in the FRA, 2006 nor in the Forest Rights Rules framed thereunder in 2007, and duly amended in Sept 2012. Rather the  FRA’s Section 3(1) (i) and Section 5 clearly recognise the rights of the Gram Sabha to protect and manage the CFR area, and further Section 4(1) (e) of the FR Rules empowers the Gram Sabhas/forest dwellers to form independent Forest Protection and Management Committees (FP&MCs) exclusively taking its own members.

However, in comparison to IFR, recognition of CFR across States is very poor. As per MoTA’s FRA status report, by April 2016, around 1,16,310 community forest rights claims have been filed at the Gram Sabha level in 15 States i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh Maharashtra Odisha Rajasthan, Telangana Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal) and 43,488 community forest rights titles have been recognised (distributed) in all these states expect Kerala. Besides, it is reported that around  3,967,016 acres of forest land has been recognised under community forest rights in seven States, i.e. Gujarat (1,081,583.00 acres), Karnataka(26,274.79 acres), Maharashtra(1,392,644.78 acres), Odisha(1,91,612.09 acres), Rajasthan(482.58 acres ),Telengana(1,274,327.90 acres ) and Tripura(91.17 acres) etc.

The CFR areas shown in the report against different States is too confusing. As per the estimation of Rights Resource Initiative (an international agency working on indigenous rights over natural resources), as per FRA, 2006, in India about 1,77,000 villages have establish rights over at least 40 million hectares of forest land by April 2016 lands, which is only 10% of 40 million hectares. Across the States, the Forest Department has been accused of not cooperating with Gram Sabha in getting community rights over forest, rather the Forest Department has been obstructing on the way of CFR right recognition.

CSD asserted that after FRA, 2006, the “forest land” has been redefined, and the forest areas where community people have been depending upon and protecting for generations, has been renamed as “CFR” over which the community people have exclusive rights and the Forest Department have no rights over it. CSD has also alleged that despite the constitutional provision of FRA, 2006 the Forest Department through JFMC/VSS is illegally trying hard to regain its control over forests, which is quite evident from the Village Forest Rules, 2015 launched in Maharashtra (http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/maharashtra-government-takes-back-control-of-forest-trade-116030900548_1.html), Ama Jungle Yojana in Odisha http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/activists-oppose-odishas-ama-jungle-yojana/article8046801.ece, and Harithaharam in Telengana project http://harithaharam.telangana.gov.in/  for promoting VSS.

In many places, Gram Sabhas have started using FRA and asserting their community rights over their CFR area and forming Forest Protection and Management Committee (FP&MC) dissolving VSS (https://counterview.org/2016/08/01/odisha-forest-dwellers-fight-govt-efforts-to-dilute-forest-rights-act-with-the-help-of-campa-funds/). Using FRA, communities have taking control over forests and are also planning of their own to protect and manage their CFR area, demanding fund from different line departments to develop their CFR area.

Conclusion

Thus, in the upcoming days it would not be so easy for the Forest Department to do plantation in the Gram Sabha’s CFR area without taking their consent. The Central Government has to ensure Gram Sabhas’ prior informed consent of any plantation programmes to be undertaken within the CFR boundary of the concerned Gram Sabha. And, the Gram Sabha has also to certify every activities of any department including that of Forest Department within its CFR area. These are urgently required to be placed in the CAMPA Fund Rules to be framed.

*Member, CSD

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