Compensatory afforestation means afforestation done in lieu of diversion of forest land for non–forest use.
On November 8, 2017, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued guidelines, specifying criteria for suitability and identification of land bank for compensatory afforestation.
MoEF&CC’s new guidelines:
–> The lands falling in protected areas, wildlife corridors can also be acquired for Compensatory afforestation. It will be afforestation only in the name–sake without making much effect to the environment as these areas are already forested.
–> The lands already having vegetation in the form of small trees, bushes etc. can be acquired in the land banks for Compensatory afforestation. It will deprive the tribals dependent on these areas from their right to live & their forest rights.
–> Emphasis on activities such as soil & moisture conservation and regeneration cleaning to ensure maintenance of plantations for a period of 7 to 10 years.
–> Regarding of not available of enough space, Ministry suggested atleast 1,000 plants per hectare should be planted on the identified non–forest lands. If this is not possible then balance number of plantation can be done on degraded forests.
Issues with new guidelines:
–> Guidelines have tried to address the challenge of land scarcity for compensatory afforestation but have fallen short of clarifying minimum threshold for undertaking plantations on non–forest land.
–> Ignores communities’ concerns.
–> Creation of land bank for compensatory afforestation needs to be carefully monitored to avoid any direct/indirect harm to ecosystem, flora & fauna and any land grabbing of forest dwellers in the name of CA.
–> These vulnerabilities are due to absence of community representation in the bank identification & extension of jurisdiction of forest bureaucracy on tribal lands.
Deforestation is a necessity to address development, and compensatory afforestation is treatment to make good on the loss arising out of forest coverage.
The need of the hour is to promote consolidation of OGF (old growth forest), restoring degraded ecology and using funds for non–native plantations only in extreme case when forest is extremely degraded with no trace of native species.
These guidelines are a welcome step to promote sustainability of the forest, but it needs to rethink the guidelines & make such a robust mechanism so that it can contain climate change & global warming which is needed at the most today.