Mitigating impact of forest land diversion

Forest land becomes the immediate target of initiating of most of the developmental projects, be it agricultural “revolution”, industrial “turnaround”, construction of dams and reservoirs, constructing of houses and offices and what not.The area of forests is, therefore, getting shrunk at a faster speed as also many precious species of trees and wildlife getting extinct. It is because of these factors, that the Governments, both at the Centre and the States, are conscious of the associated hazards over both short as well as long periods of such forest land diversions and it is on account of that reason some specific policies and action plans are tailored for mitigating the impact of such diversion of forest land. To boost the efforts of the Government towards restoration and enhancement of forest wealth, enhance bio- richness, water availability like measures etcare backed by legislative support also in the shape of creating of a fund to be spent as per Annual Plan of Operations.
However, in Jammu and Kashmir State, preparation of Annual Plan of Operations for attenuating the impact of forest land diversion for various developmental projects, by majority of the Divisional Forest Officers has not been drawing their requisite attention. This is despite repeated communiqués from the Project Coordinator of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).As per its draft Rules 2018, the Annual Plan of Operations for the next financial year is required to be submitted by the State Authority to the National Authority by or before Dec 31 every year. Well, that in other words means, the exercise for it should have started right in the month of October. Now, exactly less than one month remains for submission of details to the National Authority by the concerned authorities of the State Forest Department for approval and there are instances of many defaults.
For utilization of forest land, with or without disturbing the shape of such forests like felling of trees and construction of roads etc to access the work on projects etc, the user agencies pay for compensatory afforestation and the same is kept in a dedicated fund bearing interest at prevailing rates, called Compensatory Afforestation Fund . What follows thereafter is the release of funds strictly as per the Annual Plan of Operations so as to quieten and mollify the impact of forest land diversion.
Various State agencies and departments were requested by Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests-cum-Project Coordinator, vide various communications to advise all the Divisional Forest Officers to prepare the Annual Plan of Operations for the year 2019-20 and submit the same by November 15, 2018 for scrutiny. Not only this, the Draft too was placed before them through their respective Heads of the Departments besides the ceilings proposed for the financial year 2019-20. It was also conveyed that the CAMPA Secretariat will convene meeting of Executive Committee before December 15 for consideration and recommendation to the State Level Steering Committee. The Steering Committee was to finalise the Annual Plan of Operations and subsequent recommendation to the National Authority before December 31.
It is a sad commentary on the poor response of majority of the DFOs by having failed to meet the deadline of November 15, 2018 and hence having proved that they had scant regard for communications and the seriousness accorded to the issue by CAMPA Project Coordinator and in gross violation of Jammu and Kashmir Compensatory Afforestation Fund Rules 2018. The only recourse is taking up the matter again with the concerned authorities and to ascertain as to whether they had any specific “difficulties” in preparation and finalisation of the Annual Plan of Operations rather than holding the erring authorities accountable for this recklessness on their part. Unless performance was linked to drawing salaries and other perks by the “defaulting” authorities, such a scenario was going to remain in a state of inertia. In the instant case, monies from user agencies for compensatory afforestation remained idle and could not be utilized in a set time bound manner defeating the very purpose of compensatory afforestation.