Six years after a similar bill was defeated by the Rajya Sabha, the government Wednesday cleared a Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill to manage and utilise thousands of crores of rupees that have been collected over the years as compensation for diverting forest land for “non-forest purposes” like setting up industries or infrastructure projects.
The Cabinet gave its approval to the bill that will create an “appropriate institutional mechanism, both at the Centre and the states” to utilise these funds for afforestation, and other purposes that would mitigate the effects of diversion of forest land.
This “institutional mechanism” will replace the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) that currently exists but only in an “ad-hoc” manner. This ad-hoc CAMPA was created on the directions of a 2004 Supreme Court order, after its earlier order to establish a full-fledged CAMPA had not been complied with.
More than Rs 38,000 crore has been collected by various state governments over the years for compensatory afforestation. The money, on directions of the Supreme Court, has been transferred to the central government, in the absence of suitable institutions in the state to use the money. The money, lying unspent, has to be eventually transferred back to the states once they set up these institutions.
The proposed law will set up authorities at the national level as well as the state level to use these funds.
The Manmohan Singh government had come up with a similar legislation in 2008. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha but got defeated in the Rajya Sabha in February 2009. A parliamentary standing committee, which studied the bill, then recommended the withdrawal of the bill.
It was not immediately clear how different the current bill is from the previous one, but the proposed authority is unlikely to be called CAMPA.
“The proposed legislation also seeks to provide safety, security and, transparency in utilisation of these amounts, which currently are being kept in nationalised banks and are being managed by an ad-hoc body. These amounts would be brought within broader focus of both Parliament and state legislatures and in greater public view, by transferring them to non-lapsable interest bearing funds, to be created under public accounts of the Union of India and each state,” a government statement said.