Anti-forest, anti-forest dweller
What has happened?
Last month, Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Mahesh Sharma informed Parliament that his Ministry has collected over Rs. 50,000 crore in a Central compensatory afforestation fund (CAF). This money is to be used though the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act, 2016 or CAF, a purported mechanism to offset forest loss. Before issuing forest clearances to a mine, dam or industry, the Ministry fixes a monetary value for the forest that is to be destroyed and collects this as “compensation”
CAF is flawed
- Because it reduces their displacement, hardship and loss of livelihood and food sources to a monetary value to be paid to the state
- The law, and now its draft rules, spells further capture of Adivasi lands in the name of compensatory afforestation.
- Misuse of CAF funds by bureaucracy
Placing a huge fund at the unilateral disposal of the forest bureaucracy, giving it unchecked powers to undertake plantations on private and common property resources
- No safeguards against forest bureaucracy
The rules provide for mere “consultation” with communities in the planning of compensatory afforestation: a clear step backward from the consent provisions in the FRA and the 2014 Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act
- CAF projects on forest land
An ongoing study of 2,479 compensatory afforestation projects across 10 States by forest rights groups has shown that over 70% were on existing forest land, including dense forests
- Violence against protesting villagers
The study chronicled multiple forms of state violence against villagers protesting against such plantations (including beatings, arrests, criminal cases, food insecurity and forcible takeover of land).
Under implemented FRA
- The Forest Rights Act (FRA) was enacted in 2006 to provide forest-dependent communities with resource rights via individual and community forest land titles
- It also recognised long-standing knowledge systems and community efforts in protection of forest resources by formally establishing the authority of the gram sabha in forest stewardship
A decade on, the FRA remains grossly under-implemented, and its vision of devolving power to rural communities stonewalled.
Resource rights movements by Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities ignored
- Since the CAF Bill was floated, forest rights advocates report that over 2,500 gram sabhas across India have opposed it
- But resource rights movements by Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities are marginal in our public discourse, except during momentous events like the recent Nashik-Mumbai march.
The government’s ongoing policies do not address such demands for justice and dignity
Instead, they prepare the ground for a fresh chapter of the violent denial of rights and ecological damage.