Millennium Post
Opinion

Greening potential

Introduction of Green Credits through Advanced Afforestation for Forest Clearance can benefit all stakeholders and expand internationally in foreseeable future

Greening potential
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Forest Conservation Act (FCA) envisages equal-area Compensatory Afforestation (CA) in lieu of forestland diversion. CA lags behind its schedule, adversely impacting remediation of green felling. This article presents the concept as a 'Convenient Action' on this front.

Solution through Land Bank (LB) has given very limited success. User Agencies (UA) are willing to pay any reasonable sum for CA land, actual cost of carrying out CA, its maintenance and management but they find it impossible to locate suitable and acceptable land for the same. Even SFDs (State Forest Departments) face difficulties finding land for departmental schematic afforestation, let alone for CA.

Fresh analysis

FCA merely allows land-use change from forestland to non-forest without changing the legal status. As such, legally classified forest area remains static/unchanged even after forestland diversion; what changes is the tree cover and associated eco-system with consanguineous services.

Parallel but unrelated developments on land, Wild Life, domestic cattle, human demography, LULC (Land Use and Land Use Change), technology and markets besides CC, when integrated, offer a possible solution.

Alternative and Advance Compensatory Afforestation (AACA) can be raised by individual farmers and/or communities on FRA (Forest Rights Act)-recognized lands and other similarly available lands with third-party verified survival rate. Third-party verification can be done using MVR process similar to CDM involving accredited agencies which are subject to public scrutiny. This will not only save time, efforts and resources but also offset the environmental impacts in advance; help increase forest cover in addition to TOF (Trees Outside Forests); bring transparency and build public confidence; provide opportunities for public participation; support land-based livelihoods and create employment opportunities besides regional cooperation and inter-state operability of the CA arrangement.

Planters get paid for raising successful afforestation, of which trees are retained in perpetuity while usufructs are allowed to be harvested as continuing rights, and the resulting crop (trees + NTFP) is managed jointly with SFD or independently by SFD.

Concurrent developments

New developments that afford solutions pertain to land-use, land security and land grants including forest rights regime and those relating to animal migration and behaviour, besides the advent of large unemployed youth.

Forestland obtained under FRA (as IR) lacks capability to support economically viable agriculture. This land usually adjoins forests. Viewed in the context of beneficiaries not being traditional farmers; poor fertility of land; general unremunerativeness of agriculture and inadequate infrastructure, the effort is likely to have limited success. Instead, if part (or whole) of this land is put to forest cover, tribal and OTFD adept at living in and living with forests can raise NTFP as understory and continue to enjoy their traditional life-style with tenurial security and enhanced livelihood while trading the plantation (without change in land title) as advanced CA via a digital national directory (CANDiD) for the purpose. Similarly, Community forest-rights (CFR) land can also be used for raising AACA. Such experiences are already available in the State of Tripura, MP (Mandla and Dindori) and Maharashtra (Gadchiroli).

Absentee landlordism is increasing as land owners are, though unable to till the land, not willing to rent/lease, apprehending land/title/possession insecurity. Unremunerative farming leading to suicide by farmers calls for a combination of alternatives. Advance CA can be raised on such lands along with NTFP by the farmers, and can be traded for a specified period.

Rewilding of agrarian landscape is happening with abandoned agricultural land with no alternate land-use, as it is roamed by herbivores. It may lead to wildlife ecological succession following the principle of predator follows prey. Such lands through AACA can be brought under management with a view to reduce MAC (man animal conflict) and facilitate succession (if desirable) in an orderly fashion.

Requirement of WL migratory corridors through agriculture landscape or mixed land-use landscape is being felt increasingly. Green Credit plantation in such landscapes can offer a possible corridor for migrating WL.

Temporary-use private land acquired by projects can also be used for this purpose once the intended objective of the project is fulfilled.

Lands acquired under Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Act have both forestlands and non-forestlands and these can be used for AACA.

Mining OBR (Overburden Removal) dump afforestation may also be allowed to qualify as Green Credits. OBR dumps remain unmoved for up to 25 years and plantations are raised on them.

Mines rehabilitation, which is not a statutory requirement under FCA, may also be allowed to qualify as Green Credits to convert the landscape into combo land-use of forest, garden, water bodies and parks.

CDM's remnant experience and trained manpower is readily available for all aspects of GC and CANDiD management, particularly from A/R projects in the country.

Enabling technology

Enabling technologies such as GIS technology; remote sensing; precision geo-referencing; internet and mobile access; Big Data; transparency and visibility lends credibility, and third-party verification and MVR would build confidence of the system coupled with public scrutiny and public participation by disclosure of all Green Credit transactions with details in public domain.

Enabling legal framework

The general legal framework pertaining to land and land-use makes the proposed AACA and GC feasible, particularly the FRA.

Concept

Such lands, as listed in the foregoing, can easily be used for raising AACA with or without transferring the land title, and can be traded as advanced raised CA through a (to be created) CA National Digital Database/Directory (in short CANDiD) from the plantation raiser to SFD while payment can be made by the UAs against forestland diversion sought.

CANDiD would be able to host the MIS and GIS data of each such AACA with its unique geo-referenced ID and get it verified through third-party experts before allowing trading. One hectare (ha) of such successfully raised CA with a given crown density and duly verified AACA may be termed as one Green Credit (GC). Parameters of successful CA may be defined for each applicable bio-geographic or ecological zone similar to A/R projects under UNFCCC-sponsored CDM arrangement.

At some places, a geo-referenced plantation model, albeit for a different purpose, has been tried. The decision on putting land out of wheat-paddy cycle and into trees, choice of species, time of rotation are all being decided by farmers, free from any government/SFD interference. Punjab SFD has been able to register 38 lakh such plantations, geo-reference them and transfer subsidies. Actual plantation by farmers would be much more but SFD outreach efforts are limited.

It is high time India introduces the Green Credits for the benefit of all – the user/developmental agencies, SFDs, farmers and youth.

Further possibilities

GCs once accumulated in a district or region or state may be consolidated into a reasonable-sized management unit. It may require employing some innovative approaches.

International expansion, at least for SAARC nations, is feasible in the foreseeable future. Nature and environment do not recognise manmade administrative and political boundaries, and remedial measures taken in one part (at least in the vicinity) benefit the other parts. As such, a part of AACA may be allowed to be raised in SAARC countries with due diligence as may be required. This will add to the agenda for regional cooperation and strengthen the bond for survival together in the wake of portending (or already arrived) Climate Change.

The writer is Additional Secretary, Ministry of Coal, Government of India. Views expressed are personal

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