The cabinet committee on economic affairs on Thursday approved a Rs.46,000-crore scheme to improve and increase India’s diminishing forest cover, a day after the environment ministry was rapped for failing to properly implement a decade-old afforestation programme.
The new scheme, known as the National Mission for a Green India, envisages an expenditure of Rs.13,000 crore in the 12th five-year plan period ending in March 2017, and a total cost of Rs.46,000 crore over the next 10 years.
“We will be spending Rs.46,000 crore for the gradual increase of forest year by year. It is a targeted project which will be very effectively monitored,” environment minister M. Veerappa Moily had said on Wednesday.
The Green India Mission is one of eight missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change. It aims to increase forest cover on 5 million hectares (ha) of forest/non-forest land and improve the quality of forest cover on another 5 million ha.
Funding for the scheme will come from the Plan outlay and convergence with the Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee Act, the compensatory afforestation management and planning authority, and the national afforestation programme.
The Union government will provide 90% of the funds for implementing the scheme in the north-eastern states, and 75% of the funds for other states. State governments will meet the balance requirement.
The environment ministry faced flak from a parliamentary panel on Wednesday for failing to effectively implement the Rs.3,044 crore national afforestation programme that was launched in 2002. The panel found India’s forest cover had decreased by 367 sq.km. between 2009 and 2011.
The new mission will involve grassroots-level organizations including gram sabhas (village councils) and joint forest management committees (JFMCs). A governing council chaired by the environment minister and a national executive council chaired by the environment secretary at the national level will facilitate implementation of the mission.
“There will be an effective Central-level monitoring system. There will be third party monitoring system also,” Moily said.
Apart from afforestation, the mission will also focus on adaptation of forest-dependent communities. It aims to improve the livelihoods of about 3 million households living in and around forest areas.
Forest rights activist Tushar Dash said the mission goes against the Forest Rights’ Act (FRA) by seeking to empower the JFMCs instead of the gram sabhas. “In many areas, JFMC are conflicting with FRA. It appears that there are two sets of framework coming from the Central government—on one hand, they want to empower gram sabhas through FRA, and on other hand, it continues with the status quo on JFMCs and forest bureaucracy,” said Dash, a researcher with an Odisha-based non-governmental organisation, Vasundhara.
Another likely problem is that plantation of trees under the new mission might encroach over land cultivated by tribals, Dash said. “Restoration of ecosystem is one thing and plantation is another. The same land that is used by adivasis (tribals) to cultivate food crops might be taken over if the focus is on plantations by the forest department,” he said.
P.J. Dilip Kumar, chairman, Sustainable Forestry Association, a non-governmental organization based in Bangalore, said the solution to this would be to demarcate clear boundaries.
“As far as the FRA is concerned, it is important that land which was under cultivation needs to be identified and allocated to cultivator and boundary must be demarcated urgently,” said Kumar, a former director general of forests in the environment ministry.