October 3, 2017 - March 31, 2018
This SRM addressed the serious threat posed by the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act of 2016 to the land and forest rights of tribals and other forest dwellers. The urgency comes from the fact that the rules for operationalizing the law are in process. The SRM sought to collect evidence on violations of the Forest Rights Act, land rights, and human rights by existing plantations and use this data to carry out advocacy to ensure that the CAF rules incorporate strong safeguards to protect the rights of tribals and forest dwellers including free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). The mobilization and advocacy sought to ensure that CAF rules respect the powers and jurisdiction vested in Gram Sabhas (Village Assemblies) by the Forest Rights Act.
Under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and Supreme Court instructions, any agency appropriating forest lands has to pay a substantial sum to compensate for the forest diversion at the Net Present Value of diverted forests. This amount is presently between Rs. 4 and 10 lakhs per hectare (US$5,500-$16,000/ha), depending on the quality of the “diverted” forest and is deposited in a Compensatory Afforestation Fund. Over a decade, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund has accumulated about Rs. 42,000 crores (US$7 Billion). The Supreme Court has allowed release of small amounts from the CAF for the last seven years but has insisted that the government of India enact a new law to unlock the whole fund.
This proposal sought to support the CSOs and grassroots movements in their struggle to ensure that the CAF rules incorporate safeguards including FPIC; protection of rights and powers of Gram Sabhas and right holders vested under FRA; and control of Gram Sabhas over the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds. The window of opportunity was small as the first version of the CAF rules was already drafted—however, timely advocacy by the CSOs with Members of Parliament and with media led to withdrawal of the rules. The SRM successfully held national-level consultations with forest rights groups and drafted a report on CAMPA and CAF rules and policies.