Jammu & Kashmir has also lost a huge amount of forest cover in the last 30 years. Thousands of hectares of forest land with huge tree cover has been removed for construction of hydropower projects, dams, transmission lines and highways. During this process thousands of trees have been axed on the orders of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of Jammu & Kashmir Government. Timber smuggling was at its peak in 1990s and during that period a large number of trees were felled in different areas of Kashmir valley and Chinab region. The forests are important natural resources which render different kinds of ecological and environmental services to human beings and other living organisms. This natural resource has to be protected and preserved at any cost. Due to continuous population growth and various developmental requirements the forests are being axed on a constant basis as discussed above. The governments are also helpless as they can’t completely stop developmental activities as the same happens to be the backbone of the economy of nations. Despite the fact that we caused huge losses to our forest wealth for hydropower projects, the Govt is still not able to generate enough power which will enable us to get 24 x 7 electricity supply.
In order to compensate for the loss of forest area and to maintain the sustainability, the Government of India came up with a well-defined legislation known as Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 (CAF Act 2016). The preamble of this act reads:
“An Act to provide for the establishment of funds under the public accounts of India and the public accounts of each State and crediting thereto the monies received from the user agencies towards compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value and all other amounts recovered from such agencies under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; constitution of an authority at national level and at each of the State and Union territory Administration for administration of the funds and to utilise the monies so collected for undertaking 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.”
Under this act there is a provision for creation of an authority known as Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority also called CAMPA. Enactment of CAF Act 2016 has its basis on the various pronouncements of Hon’ble Supreme Court from 2002 onwards. The law in fact mentions all those judgements. According to the provisions of CAMPA a company diverting forest land must provide alternative land to take up compensatory afforestation. For afforestation, the company should pay to plant new trees in the alternative land provided to the state. The loss of the forest ecosystem must also be compensated by paying for net present value (NPV). In 2002, the Supreme Court had observed that collected funds for afforestation were under-utilised by the states and it ordered for centrally pooling of funds under ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund. The court had set up the ad hoc National Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to manage the fund. In 2009, states had also set up state CAMPAs that received 10 percent of funds from the national CAMPA to use for afforestation and forest conservation. In spite of huge funds available under CAMPA the same could not be utilised properly in the past. There are indeed some success stories, but a lot more could have been done.
REDD Plus Mechanism
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is a mechanism developed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005. Most of the key REDD+ decisions were completed by 2013, with the final pieces of the rulebook finished in 2015. The “Plus” in REDD+, lays out the various ways in which countries have defined the three activities: conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stock. This aims to achieve climate change mitigation by incentivising forest conservation. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) , established at Conference Of Parties (COP)-17 to function as the financial mechanism for the UNFCCC, is currently financing REDD+ programs. Brazil was the first country to receive 96.5 million USD under the results-based payments.
India has communicated in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under Paris Agreement, that it will capture 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.In this regard, India has prepared its “National REDD+ Strategy” which was introduced in 2018 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The strategy seeks to address drivers of deforestation and forest degradation and also develop a roadmap for enhancement of forest carbon stocks and achieving sustainable management of forests through REDD plus mechanism.
J&K Chief Secretary, Dr A K Mehta recently chaired the inaugural session of a two day workshop on capacity building of JK Forest and other departments being conducted under REDD-Plus Action for Jammu and Kashmir. The workshop was organised by JK Forest Department and Himalayan Forests Research Institute Shimla. Commissioner Secretary Environment & Forests Sanjeev Verma, Chairperson JK Pollution Control Committee Neelu Gera were present during the workshop. The Chief Secretary asserted that J&K would emerge as a model UT in the environmental sector within a year’s time. He also called for funding such initiatives by convergence of funds and expressed happiness to note that as per the Government of India Report, 2021, Jammu and Kashmir has the highest carbon stock per unit area. This indicates that J&K has maximum biomass and good soil quality in forests of J&K.
Har Gaon Haryali
Forest department under the leadership of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Mohit Gera early last year had launched a massive afforestation programme called One Beat Guard One Village Programme. Under this programme forest department envisaged to undertake massive afforestation programme in 1000 villages in J&K by involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs), Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMs) and other Govt and Non Govt Organisations -NGOs. In order to make this programme more effective and its reach out to all the 5000 village panchayats across J&K, J&K Forest Department launched Har Gaon Hariyali programme last year in December.
‘Har Gaon Hariyali’ program in consonance with the vision of ‘Green Jammu and Kashmir’ drive is to ensure sustainable development and promote climate justice which will help increase the Carbon Stock especially in our villages located near degraded forests. Govt initiated ‘Har Gaon Haryali’ campaign in November 2021. Under this campaign, the forest department in association with the social forestry department, soil conservation department and Rural Development Department will undertake massive plantations ( 1 crore plus) in all the village panchayats of J&K. The labour component under Har Gaon Hariyali programme is taken care of under MGNREGA. The Social Forestry Department is laying emphasis on providing hybrid clonal plants to farmers from its modern nurseries, so that farmer’s income can be supplemented and sustained supply of raw materials to wood based industries can be ensured.
Recently I had a detailed meeting with Principal Chief Conservator of Forests J&K Mohot Gera at his Srinagar office. I appreciate his efforts vis a vis Har Gaon Hariyali programme. I put forward some suggestions before him for the convergence of the Forest Rights Act, Forest Conservation Act and Biodiversity Act and creating a joint platform Forest Rights Committee , Biodiversity Management Committee and Joint Forest Management Committees. I suggested holding capacity building programmes and exposure visits for these committees. The Commissioner Secretary to Govt Sanjeev Verma also seems to be very much concerned about the Har Goan Hariyali programme. He is holding frequent meetings not only with the officers of forest department but he interacts with officers of Rural Development Department as well to know the status of this massive plantation programme. The biggest achievement under Har Gaon Hariyali is that a massive convergence programme is taking place by dovetailing funds under MG-NREGA and the afforestation programme of the forest department. This is remarkable work done in collaboration between the Forest and Rural Development Department in J&K. The Forest Department would have to spend huge money as labour cost to plant the saplings, but the same is taken care of by the Rural Development Department (RDD).
Har Gaon Hariyali is a remarkable work initiated by the Government of J&K through the Forest Department. Commissioner Secretary Forests Sanjeev Verma and PCCF Mohit Gera along with Secretary Rural Development are monitoring this work personally. I have a suggestion to make sure there are no changes of corruption in this green initiative. Let the Govt make details of these plantations done at village level public through social media and on the notice boards of every panchayat. Let the local population know how many and what kind of plantation has been done in their panchayat halqa. We need to ensure involvement of people in this massive afforestation drive and let the religious and social leaders be also involved in this green campaign.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow.
He is Chairman JK RTI Movement & Anant Fellow for Climate Action.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.