After a few days of uncertainty, the CAMPA Bill was finally passed by the Rajya Sabha through a voice vote on Thursday, after Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave read out the exact draft he proposed to include in the rules of the new legislation to accommodate the concerns raised by some members. Rules specify how a law would be implemented, and are framed by the government, not Parliament. The Bill had been passed in the Lok Sabha earlier this year.
Congress member Jairam Ramesh, whose proposed amendment was the main hurdle in the passage of the Bill, withdrew his amendment after the minister assured that opposition concerns would be addressed through the rules and then went on to read out the exact lines that would be incorporated. He even promised that if this formulation did not yield the desired results, he would “revisit” it and bring it back to Parliament after a year.
Dave’s assurance was received with thumping of desks by the Congress and other opposition members.
The CAMPA Bill seeks to establish institutions for managing funds that accrue to the government as compensation for destruction of forests due to industrial or infrastructure projects.
Over the last one decade, more than Rs 42,000 crore has been collected as compensation for destroyed forests. This money, currently lying with the Centre, belongs to states, but its disbursal had been blocked by the Supreme Court till the institutional mechanisms, which are sought to be built by the CAMPA Bill, were created. “I would like to see this money go to states as soon as possible; tomorrow, if it can be done,” Dave said.
Ramesh’s amendment sought to include a provision in the Bill saying land for compensatory afforestation would be selected only after ensuring that no forest-dweller or tribal had staked a claim for ownership over it under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
Earlier, members across party lines spoke in favour of the Bill, though a number of them wanted a few more safeguards to be included, on the lines suggested by Ramesh. Bhupender Yadav of the BJP said the afforestation money should be allowed to be utilised for preservation of wetlands and common forest areas, like grazing fields, as well. He said skill upgradation of local communities should be considered a valid expense under this fund.
Several members stressed on the need to make local communities part of the consultation process for afforestation activities. Harivansh of the JD(U) wanted the government to include safeguards to prevent misuse of the fund.