The Forest Advisory Committee, an apex body tasked with adjudicating requests by the industry to raze forest land for commercial ends, has approved a scheme that could allow “forests” to be traded as a commodity.
If implemented, it allows the Forest Department to outsource one of its responsibilities of reforesting to non-government agencies.
The proposed ‘Green Credit Scheme’, as it is called, allows agencies — they could be private companies, village forest communities — to identify land and begin growing plantations.
After three years, they would be eligible to be considered as compensatory forest land if they met the Forest Department’s criteria.
An industry needing forestland could then approach the agency and pay it for parcels of such forested land, and this would then be transferred to the Forest Department and be recorded as forestland.
“The participating agency will be free to trade its asset, that is a plantation, in parcels, with project proponents who need forest land,”
This is not the first time that such a scheme has been mooted.
In 2015, a ‘Green Credit Scheme’ for degraded forest land with public-private participation was recommended, but it was not approved by the Union Environment Minister, the final authority.
Such a scheme will encourage plantation by individuals outside the traditional forest area, which will help in meeting international commitments such as sustainable development goals, and nationally determined contributions.
In the current system, the industry needs to make good the loss of forest by finding appropriate non-forest land equal to that which would be razed.
It also must pay the State Forest Department the current economic equivalent called Net Present Value of the forestland.
It’s then the Forest Department’s responsibility to grow appropriate vegetation that, over time, would grow into forests.
Industries have often complained that they find it hard to acquire appropriate non-forest land, which has to be contiguous to an existing forest.
The Centre had collected nearly ₹50,000 crores over decades, but the funds were lying unspent because States were not spending the money on re-growing forests.