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CAMPA: A double whammy!

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

CAMPA: A double whammy!

Usefulness of CAMPA needs a full-time auditory investigation to know whether it has made any impact to achieve the lofty goals of this fund, i.e., compensating the loss of deforestation due to development activities...

CAMPA: A double whammy!

Thinking Point

Dr Asad Rahmani

The writer is an ornithologist and conservationist; former director of BNHS and now the scientific adviser to The Corbett Foundation as well as the governing council member of Wetlands International, South Asia

CAMPA, or Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority, was started by the Government of India in 2004 by the then Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to manage the Compensatory Afforestation Fund. CAMPA is meant to promote afforestation and regeneration activities as a way of compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses. In 2009, MoEF framed guidelines for the state to receive this fund. CAMPA is managed by the National Advisory Council, under the chairmanship of the central Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

Since its inception in 2004, the scope of CAMPA has been broadened and not restricted to afforestation “as compensation to forest loss”. It now includes “improving quality of forests through assisted natural regeneration, enrichment of biodiversity, improvement of wildlife habitat, control of forest fire, forest protection and soil and water conservation measures.” Creation of nurseries for “multiplication of quality planting material of locally suitable plant species” is also included. The government proudly claimed in the Parliament that the “monitoring of CAMPA activities in States/UTs are carried out through Internal and Third Party monitoring and e-Green watch web portal.”

According to CAMPA rules, the states are required to submit the Annual Plan of Operations (APO), prepared by State CAMPA in accordance with the provisions of the CAF Act, 2016 & Rules. Funds given under this scheme to states from 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22 show interesting results. It appears that states in which a large diversion of natural forests for non-forestry purposes is going on gets the maximum funding. For example, in 2019-20, Odisha got the maximum fund (Rs 5,933.98 crore), followed by Madhya Pradesh (Rs 5,196.69 crore) and Telangana (Rs 3,110.38 crore). Interestingly, Arunachal Pradesh which has almost 80% area covered under forest, got Rs 1734.81 crore, and Haryana which has only 3.63% under forest got Rs. 1,282.65 crore.

The usefulness of CAMPA needs a full-time auditory investigation to know whether it has made any impact to achieve the lofty goals of this fund, i.e., compensating for the loss of deforestation due to development activities. In this brief article, I will highlight how CAMPA is misused to destroy natural habitats in the name of ‘afforestation’.

Grasslands and wetlands are two ecosystems that have been neglected and abused for a long time. Despite having the largest livestock population in the world, India does not have a National Grassland and Grazing Policy. As a result of which natural grasslands are either severely over-grazed, encroached, or planted over, mostly by exotic fast-growing species. Either way, they are destroyed. Earlier, the lack of funds in states was keeping some grasslands intact, but now flush with CAMPA funds, many states have gone overboard to plant trees in grasslands and grazing lands. In some states, that is the only land left for plantations. Every District Forest Officer and Conservator of Forests has to show results, and “to utilize the funds”, so the nearest open area is the victim. No doubt, some good afforestation has been done but it cannot compensate for the natural forests that were lost in the name of development. A row of trees is not equal to a thriving natural forest ecosystem with high biodiversity.

Similar is the case of wetlands. Though we have Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and state Wetland Authorities, all these rules are mostly ineffective in saving wetlands. Only larger wetlands are listed under the list of Wetlands of National Importance. Wetlands inside protected areas are governed by the provision of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. What about smaller wetlands scattered all over the country?

In 2020, during the World Wetland Day, the MoEFCC drafted ‘Guidelines for Implementing Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017’. A beautiful document that talks of all wetlands, irrespective of their location, size, ownership, biodiversity, etc. It has rightly omitted human-made wetlands specifically constructed for drinking water, salt production, irrigation, recreation, and paddy fields. Also, those wetlands come under the WLPA and Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 2011 as they can be governed by different laws.

Between 2006 and 2010, the Space Application Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad had identified and mapped 757,000 wetlands of above 52 ha in India under the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment Project. In the last 15 years, many wetlands have totally disappeared or largely been encouraged upon. Sometimes, misuse of CAMPA played an important role in destroying or changing the character of the wetland. The latest example is the Tampara wetland in Odisha. Its Ramsar status could not save it from “beautification and development”. This 300-hectare freshwater lake is situated on the right bank of the Rushikulya River, near Chhatrapur, the district headquarters of Ganjam district. According to newspaper reports and images circulated on social media, the natural beauty of this wetland is replaced by concrete structures. Almost the whole periphery of the lake is cemented and paths, restaurants, cottages, hotels, and parks developed for the recreation of people by the Odisha Tourism Department. The main aim is to attract tourists and not birds. The local NGO, Orissa Environmental Society objected to this violation of the Ramsar Convention rules, but there was so much money involved that every officer had a stake. Even my letter to the Hon’ble Chief Minister did not elicit any response.

Another threat to wetlands is from the Government of India’s scheme under Amrit Dharohar. Like all government schemes, Amrit Dharohar is a noble plan. It says: “The government will promote their unique conservation values through Amrit Dharohar, a scheme that will be implemented over the next three years to encourage optimal use of wetlands, and enhance biodiversity, carbon stock, eco-tourism opportunities and income generation for local communities.” Funds have been allocated in the 2023-24 budget. But my question is: Whether any consideration will be given to maintain the naturalness and biodiversity of wetlands developed under this scheme? A recent horror that I saw was Rani Laxmi Bai Amrit Sarovar, near Mandhka-Jodhanpur village,  Gauriganj, Amethi district, Uttar Pradesh where a pond has been dug up and earthen bund made all around it, all in the name of wetland protection.

Most of the authorities like to “beautify” the wetlands (whatever that may mean). As funds have to be utilized, tree plantation and cement work become an excuse to spend money. It does not matter whether plantation is required or not, or whether cement structures are necessary or not. The main aim is to utilize the funds, not to protect the natural characteristics of a wetland. Water Hyacinth, the pernicious invasive species, is a cancer of most wetlands but funds are not available for weed removal. A lot of funds are used for building cement structures, machines, and digging by JCBs. If such activities destroy the wetland, let it be. Funds are utilized before 31st March, and cement/JCBs hide the loot. 

I call this a double whammy. First, a natural forest is cut down for development projects or for mining, then the compensation money (CAMPA) are used to destroy other natural areas (grasslands and wetlands)

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