India looks to boost forest cover & provide ‘healing touch’ to mining, too: Padmesh Gupta

Nagpur: The city based global industrialist and the Chairman and Managing Director of Gupta Corporation, Padmesh Gupta, in an interaction with Nagpur Today, said that India is one of the top ten mineral producing countries in the world. However, deforestation caused by mining and other non-forest uses has raised the concerns in recent times. India possesses only 2.4% of the total surface area of the earth. However, it is home to 17% of the world’s population. Therefore, policymakers have been looking for ways to allow surface mines to be ‘healed,’ Gupta said.

Padmesh Gupta further said, to deal with the issue, an agency — Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)—has been set up to manage afforestation and regeneration activities in place of the land acquired for mining and other non-forest uses by various organizations. “CAMPA can now mandate forest clearances across the country by post notification of Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF), 2016,” he added.

“Land acquired for compensatory afforestation by mining and other non-forest uses by various organizations doesn’t have to fulfil the ‘public purpose’ condition which is specified by Indian land acquisition law. This is likely to create a legal vacuum as the land acquired for compensatory afforestation will become just an administrative formality. What the revenue department has to do is to just notify an area so that it can be reclassified as a forest,” Gupta stated.

The Chairman and Managing Director of Gupta Corporation said as of now, under the CAF Act, corporates like him have to file for forest clearances by either acquiring an equal amount of forest land or twice the area of non-forest land to perform compensatory afforestation. As of now, it seems compensatory afforestation was used to ensure that the land acquisition process wasn’t a lengthy one. Companies usually find it tough to convince stakeholders to sell their land, he said.

“Till now the CAF Act doesn’t include any sort of legal provisions to penalize the misuse of land bought by mining companies. However, India is offering a huge opportunity to raise funds for forests through UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), which is a mechanism under international climate change network for funding developing countries. But still, there are considerable debates on a national policy related to REDD+ as several local communities have voiced their concerns. India must adopt a precautionary approach since numerous REDD+ projects across Africa and Latin America have been criticized for allegations related to land grabbing,” Padmesh Gupta stated.

He further elaborated that as India’s economy continues to grow and firms enhance their operations, Green Mission India has already committed Rs 46,000 crore to expand forest cover on 5 million hectares of forested and non-forested lands and also enhance the quality of forest cover in another 5 million ha. Such a move is likely to boost income of 3 million families which are dependent on forests for their livelihood. It will improve annual carbon dioxide sequestration by 50-60 million tonnes within the next few years.

Rs 66,000 crore for boosting forest cover:
The Central Government, after accumulating approximately Rs 66,000 crore from user agencies/subcontractors for diverting forest land for non-forest purposes in the last 10 years, has finally notified the rules to use the money for expanding forest cover and also for setting up authorities to monitor its proper use for afforestation and conservation.

The Parliament passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill in July 2016 and notified the draft rules early February this year. As per the rules, notified by the government recently, about 80% of the total money will be used by the states for plantation and other green projects, including assisted natural regeneration, artificial regeneration, forest fire prevention and control operations, soil and moisture conservation works in the forest, silvicultural operations in forests, voluntary relocation of villages from protected areas and improvement of wildlife habitat.

Besides, the states will utilise the remaining 20% of the afforestation amount for 11 listed works for strengthening of the forest and wildlife related infrastructure. The list includes survey and mapping of forest areas for forest fire control, compensatory afforestation works, soil and moisture conservation; casual engagement of local people to assist regular staff of state forest department; construction, upgradation and maintenance of inspection paths, forest roads in forest area and independent concurrent monitoring and evaluation and third party monitoring of various works, among others.

However, the money cannot be utilised for activities such as medical expenses to regular staff of state forest department, payment of salary, payment of legal services, travelling allowances, going on foreign visits, expansion and upgradation of zoo and wildlife safari, among other things.