Rajya Sabha

July 28, 2016

Md  Nadimul Haque speaks on The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2016

Md  Nadimul Haque speaks on The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2016

Sir, forests are a vital component to sustain the life support system on earth. Forests, whether, Government, village or private, serve the entire community and represent a community resource that meets the needs of millions of rural people, specially the tribals.

Sir, here I state forcefully that my party, All India Trinamool Congress, believes that ‘jangal adhikar,’ or ‘rights of the forest dwellers,’ have to be kept with the tribals and the responsibility for this should be given to the State Governments.

Sir, India has unparalleled forest diversity and resources. Forests have been, and continue to be, an integral part of the natural commons and livelihoods of many communities in the country. The principles and framework laid down in this Bill will, therefore, have a far-reaching impact and is a consolidation of a long-term strategy to conserve the country’s abundant forest reserves. Overall, the intent and provisions of this Bill are good and are in conformity with the larger aim of increasing the forest cover in the country. However, I have four specific issues with regards to this Bill.

The communities, whose livelihoods depends on forest resources – particularly tribal communities – must be made a part of the procedures involved in the Bill and of afforestation activities. Some MPs have raised this in the form of amendments but we suggest to the Government that this be brought within the framework of the Rules pertaining to this Act. In this regard, it is worthwhile to mention here that the West Bengal State Government has taken pioneering steps in ensuring community participation in afforestation activities.

The State Government has announced the appointment of ‘aranya bandhus’ in November 2015. These ‘bandhus’ are community volunteers who will alert the Forest Department whenever a tree is felled. The green guards will also organise campaigns for awareness on afforestation, and will act as a liaison between the people and the Forest Department and help resolve issues that require trees to be chopped off. Engendering community participation through innovative steps like these can go a long way in achieving the goal of afforestation laid out in this Bill, and the Centre must consider replicating this initiative across the country.

The second point I would like to raise is with regards to the Monitoring Group. In this Bill, the National Authority consists of a Governing Body, Executive Committee, Monitoring Group and administrative members. To this end, a Monitoring Group should be incorporated at the State level as well.

Sir, forest land has been diverted for facilitating developmental activities for non-forestry purposes. In addition, loss of the forest ecosystem must be compensated through the payment of the net present value of a forest (NPV).

Here I would like to point out an issue raised by the Standing Committee. Between 2006 and 2012, the State Environment Departments were to get almost a lakh hectares of land for afforestation. But the State Governments only got some 28,000 hectares. Moreover, out of this, only 7,286 hectares were actually used for afforestation. Sir, though forest land is being used for development, far less non-forest land is being compensated. In this regard, in 2013, a CAG report has also noted that afforestation was carried out only on 7% of the actual land that was supposed to be afforested.

In 2014, yet another committee – the Madhu Verma Committee, which was constituted to study the implementation of NPV – also suggested reforms in computing NPV.

Sir, I request the Minister to clarify the provisions regarding this and whether the suggestions given by this Committee have been duly considered for inclusion in the Bill.

Lastly, Sir, before concluding my remarks on the Bill, I would like to state that in Bengal when the Maa-Mati-Manush Government came to power in 2011, the biggest challenge before our Government was not only to maintain but also to increase the forest area which presently extends from the Sunderbans to the foothills of the Himalayas, and amounts to 11,879 sq km of forest land in the State.

Sir, despite this challenge, I am proud to state before this august House that the forest cover in our State has increased to 8%, which is approximately 3,810 sq km. Moreover, Sir, out of 5,871 sq km increase in forest cover in the country, nearly 64% accounts for the State of West Bengal alone, which is the highest in the country. The West Bengal Government has now initiated a new afforestation programme in the industrial belt of Durgapur-Asansol and Purba Medinipur, fully funded by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board.

Sir, all the members are well aware that as soon as this Bill is passed, the funds under the law would be re-allotted. Here, I would like to add that the good performance of the State of West Bengal, as mentioned above, must be rewarded.

And Sir, before I end, through you, Sir, may I tell Jairam Ramesh that he mentioned the name of Mamata Banerjee not once, but twice, in his speech and also twice mentioned the name of the leader of the Trinamool Congress in Rajya Sabha. He appealed to us to take responsibility to protect tribal communities as per The Forest Rights Act, which we had supported in 2006. Sir, what makes him think that States are not responsible enough to disperse money keeping tribal rights in mind? What makes him think that popularly elected State Governments cannot handle the needs of the people? What makes him think that only the Centre is responsible and the States are irresponsible? What makes him think that Trinamool Congress will heed the advice of a party that has been outright rejected by the people of Bengal?

Mr Ramesh is entitled to his opinions, Sir, but advice? We know our responsibilities to the tribals and all the rest. Trinamool is always by the side of the people.

Hai, afsos ke toda hai dil usne,

Hai, afsos ke toda hai dil usne,

Jisko yeh bhi nahin maloom ki toota kya hai.

Thank you.