Forest Governance Strategy Group: An integrated vision of forest management in India

The Forest Governance Strategy Group (FGSG) is an attempt to take forward the Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG), an initiative supported by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), U.K. During the course of FGLG discussions, the members realized and agreed that forest administration in India is currently stuck in a vicious circle where it is the lowest priority in the political spectrum. The members stressed on the need for taking forth the focussed group discussion forum to pioneer legal and administrative solutions to change the status quo in forestry in India. Accordingly, following the successful completion of FGLG in March 2013, IIED and Enviro Legal Defence Firm (ELDF) decided to build on the discussions and lessons learnt from FGLG with a newly formulated national level peer group, team to be known as “Forest Governance Strategy Group” (FGSG), on sustainable forestry in India and South Asia.

The FGSG’s primary objectives would be to:

  • Constitute a ‘think-tank’ to strengthen forest governance in India and South Asia;
  • Build an all-encompassing platform of forestry experts for an ongoing dialogue on the challenges, knowledge exchange, potential solutions, and dissemination of information with the stakeholders;
  • Bridge the huge communication gap between the executive and the legislature and amongst the executive also, as far as forest governance is concerned.

The group has already met twice this year. First meeting was held at ELDF office in New Delhi on March 24, 2015, and the second brainstorming session was organized at M.P. Bhawan in New Delhi on June 29, 2015. Both the meetings were successful to define the objectives, structure, working themes, approach, and membership concerns of forming a new national-level expert group on forest governance. By the time the second FGSG meeting concluded, the group had committed to produce knowledge products such as technical papers and policy responses on identified key forest issues. The group meetings planned the specific activities under the core thematic focus of the group. These activities have been undertaken in the six months period from April to October 2015.

The proposed key working themes decided by the group are:

  • Forest & People: Participatory Forest Management,  Livelihoods & Forest Settlements
  • Law, Policy, Regulatory & Institutions on Forests (including International laws)
  • Climate, REDD+ & PES
  • Markets & Private Sector: Agroforestry and Forest-based Enterprises

The FGSG would build upon the completed activities and accumulated experience of FGLG India. Each of the members of the FGSG would use their expertise on different aspects of forest governance, to contribute to what is already acknowledged as a useful platform for responding to new policy developments, bringing emerging issues to the attention of policymakers and ensuring that national level proposals affecting forest governance are well-informed by field-level reality. Further, a new website dedicated to FGSG (fgsgindia.org) was launched on the second meeting (June 29, 2015) linking FGLG website to the signal the new entity and approach. FGSG website would be further developed into a storehouse of South Asian forest law and policy-related data and discourse for the rest of the world. The concept note and the minutes of the FGSG meetings can be accessed on the website. Further, the policy inputs by the various members would be published on the IIED and FGSG website.

(Blogger: Naysa Ahuja)

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Compensatory Afforestation Bill

Introduction of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill in the Indian Parliament on 29th April 2015 is the biggest development in the forestry sector in India. The bill seeks to provide an institutional mechanism, both at the Centre and State, to manage the funds under the public accounts of India collected from user agencies diversion of forests land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980[1]. The bill proposes to constitute authorities and a Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) at the national level and at each of the State and Union territory Administration for administration of the funds collected by state governments in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purposes and to utilise the funds collected for afforestation activities[2].

It is well known that as of date over Rs. 38,000 crores are lying unspent in the ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund and there is a fresh accrual of compensatory levies and interest on accumulated unspent balance, which  is of the order of approximately Rs. 6,000 crore per annum”[3]. Given the huge sum of money accruing in the fund and the potential impact that effective management of the funds could have on the forests, forest dwelling communities in the country and help meet India’s targets for climate change, the provisions of the bill vis a vis its management, utilization of the fund and more importantly the manner in which it visualizes regeneration of forests in India become crucial.

The overall structure proposed by the bill are two separate funds: one at the national level known as the Nation Compensatory Afforestation Fund (NCAF) and one at the level of each state, known as the State Compensatory Afforestation Fund (SCAF). These are to be backed by national and state authorities, constituted under the Act and a national level monitoring agency. One of the notable features of the bill is that there is provision for direct crediting of funds collected into the state accounts, without routing them through the Central Fund. However, at the same time, the bill also proposes a strong Central Government control over the fund management and its utilization.

[1] These include funds collected for compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value, undertaking activities related to protection of biodiversity  or wildlife and all other amounts recovered from such agencies under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

[2] These, as per the Bill, include “artificial regeneration (plantations), assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, forest related infrastructure development, Green India Programme, wildlife protection and other related activities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

[3] http://pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/compensatory-afforestation-fund-bill-2015/

(Blogger: Suparna Jain)