Environmental lawyers and researchers petitioned the Rajya Sabha in December, 2017 with concerns regarding the Compensatory Afforestation Act of 2016. The Compensatory Afforestation Act was passed in 2016 amidst great contestation. Forest rights groups oppose the Act, citing concerns regarding it implication for forest-dwelling communities.
This petition highlights the failure of the CAF Act in complying with international legal standards such as the Aichi targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity that India is bound by as well as national laws like the Forest Rights Act,2006 and the Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas Act,1996.
The petition, which was submitted with the objective of informing the process of rulemaking, is aspirational in suggesting potential amendments to the Act. The primary violations brought forth by the petition are the disregard of the Act on obtaining the consent of forest-dwelling communities for undertaking plantation activities on degraded forest land or in the identification of non-forest land. The petition states
“The consent of Gram Sabha’s and local communities has also not been taken while implementing CA projects. The forest clearance process requires that the consent of the gram Sabha be obtained for diversion of forest land for a non-forest purpose. Diversion of forest land for compensatory afforestation is presently not considered within the ambit of ‘non-forest purpose’. Parliamentary debates on the CAF Act concluded in an assurance that Gram Sabha consent will be included in the Rules in order to address this issue. However, the draft rules that have now been released include no such provision. Reports examining the implementation of plantations have revealed that decisions about CA are taken without consulting or obtaining the consent of the Gram Sabha. The large majority of these plantations are undertaken on forest lands. This violates the CAF Act itself which requires that the District Collector finds that no suitable non-forest land is available for plantations before forest land is utilised for compensatory afforestation.
The CAF Act also needs to be amended to account for instances where non-forest land is acquired for plantations. Plantations undertaken on non-forest land must comply with the Land Acquisition Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act (2013). This statute requires that communities must consent to land acquisition and be compensated for losses suffered. Consent and compensation provisions under this statute extend to all communities above and beyond the rights of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers that are recognised under the FRA”
The petition lays out concrete amendments to remedy this legal vacuum. Karthik and Kodiveri in their article on ‘The Great Indian Land Grab’ address how mechanisms like land banks are being used to procure land for purposes of afforestation. The petition calls for an explicit cessation in the creation of land banks for compensatory afforestation which further threatens the rights of forest dwelling and other communities to their land and resources. The recommendations of the petition read as follows
1. Ensure compliance of CAF Act with Forest Rights Act, Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act and Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act.
2. Ensure free, prior and informed consent of all communities under Gram Sabha’s and Gram Panchayats, including, but not limited to, Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers, in the instance of either forest land or non-forest land is being acquired for compensatory afforestation.
3. Cease the creation of land banks for compensatory afforestation.
4. Include accountability mechanisms to monitor funds collected against Net Present Value and for compensatory afforestation.
5. Make funds for compensatory afforestation available to Gram Sabhas under the Forest Rights Act.
6. Penalise dispossession of communities without free, prior and informed consent.
7. Penalise non-implementation of plantations in a time-bound manner.
Despite the submission of this and other petitions by concerned groups and citizens the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has stated that it has received no communication from groups working on forest rights in a question posed in the Lok Sabha on 5th January 2018. Injustice in the form of compensatory afforestation will continue while the Ministry fails to meaningfully engage with such petitions and suggestions.
See here for a full text of the petition submitted to parliament.