Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act is Hurting Forest Communities, Says Petition

Rights groups tell parliamentary panel that even though late environment minister Anil Dave had assured that concerns would be addressed, rules have still not been framed.

New Delhi: Civil society organisations working on environmental conservation have petitioned the parliamentary commission, asking for the repeal or amending of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 (CAF Act) to ensure its compliance with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) .

Coming together under the banner of All India Forum for Forest Movements (AIFFM) and Community Forest Rights- Learning and Advocacy process (CFR-LA), these civil society groups have issued a national call against the CAF Act 2016 which, they said, is supposed to allocate more than Rs. 50,000 crore collected from users of forest lands for development projects; for plantations to replace forests lost.

However, the petition said, evidence from existing plantations revealed that “the compensatory afforestation (CA) funds have become a tool to further strengthen the forest departments, undermine the authority of gram sabhas, defeat forest rights claims, and to facilitate rampant corruption and mismanagement of public money”.

“Across the states CA plantations have been set up on community forests, common lands, homesteads, cultivable land, pastures and religious sites which belong to communities, without their free, prior and informed consent,” the petitioners have alleged.

Further they said the forest department and joint forest management committees have resorted to violence and illegal means– including assault, illegal detentions, destruction of homes, crops and cattle, and forcing villagers to sign blank papers to force communities to set up these plantations.

Communities being deprived of basic resources

In many cases, plantations are being carried out on the same lands claimed by local communities. And while the claims have been either kept pending, or rejected, the communities are being denied access to basic resources for sustenance as fences, trenches, CCTVs and armed guards are being used to keep the communities away, the petition said.

Compounding the problem of dispossession, the petitioners said the ministry of environment, forests and climate change had issued guidelines on November 8 for illegally ordering the creation of land banks from revenue forests and degraded forest lands for CA projects over which tribals and forest dwellers have got forest rights. “Such an aggressive denial of physical and tenurial security has the potential of inflaming Left Wing Extremism in tribal areas, which already report 44 conflicts impacting 51,000 people on account of CA plantations,” they cautioned.

The petitioners also noted that while the late MoEFCC minister Anil Madhav Dave had at the time of enactment of the Act assured the Rajya Sabha that the CAF Rules would address forest rights concerns and include provision for consultation with gram sabhas in the implementation of CAF programs, while over a year has passed since no rules have been framed or public consultations held with stakeholders.

Since the CAF Rules have not been notified yet, as a consequence dispossession of forest-dwelling communities was continuing unabated in several states, including Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Therefore, the group believe the winter session of Parliament is an “opportunity to hold the government accountable to their assurance to more than 200 million forest dwellers whose rights are recognized by FRA.”