The Problems with Compensatory Afforestation in India
Why in the news?
India’s target of increasing its forest and tree cover to absorb an additional amount of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 is a relatively difficult one to achieve.
What is the issue?
- Threat to forests – Forests are under stress due to the need for rapid industrial and infrastructure development, and accompanying urbanisation.
- Government initiatives – Green India Mission, the national afforestation programme, and the tree plantation exercises along the highways and railways, help improve forest cover.
- The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and Namami Ganga also have significant afforestation components.
What is Compensatory Afforestation?
- Afforestation – It seeks to ensure that forest lands getting diverted for non-forest purposes, like industrial development, is mandatorily accompanied by afforestation effort.
- Legal mandate – It made a legal requirement through the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act of 2016, does ensure that newer parcels of land are earmarked for development as forests.
- Funding – Project developers, public or private, are required to fund the entire afforestation activity on these new lands.
- Goods & Services – Newly afforested land cannot be expected to immediately start delivering the range of goods and services that the diverted forests were providing.
- Net Present Value (NPV) –Project developers are asked to pay for the NPV of the forests being cleared, based on a calculation decided by an expert committee.
What are the problems associated with the compensatory afforestation practice?
- No suitable land – Besides the low utilisation of funds, the lack of availability of suitable land remains the biggest problem for compensatory afforestation.
- Distributed land – While the law mandates at least an equal area of land to be provided for compensatory afforestation, rarely is a contiguous stretch of land made available for this purpose. The total area of land is often distributed over 20 or more different locations.
- Monocultures –Companies often indulge in planting plantations in the available land, which is critical because plantations are monocultures, meaning they contain only one species of plants.
A key element of any forest is biodiversity.
- Biotic Pressure – Forest officials point to biotic pressures, the challenge the plantations face from nearby human habitations and cattle.
- Greenwashing – Critics say compensatory afforestation had legitimised the clearing of forests, and see it as an example of Greenwashing. However, clearing of forests for another purpose cannot be entirely eliminated, compensatory afforestation is a good mechanism for attempting to make up for these losses to some extent.
What is required is actually an ecosystems approach with a focus on climate justice and the rights and role of local communities. It should also address biodiversity and poverty effectively and challenge the underlying causes of deforestation directly, resolving governance, poverty and land tenure issues.