Analysis of Findings
This project involved revising Google Earth satellite imagery of hundreds of CA sites through GPS data available on the MOEFCC website e-Green Watch (http://egreenwatch.nic.in). Several patterns emerged through this process and are visible in the 17 cases from eight states featured on this website.
Another pattern, majorly featured in the government's own reports (CAG 2013), are 'ghost plantations.' Such plantations--where records show money was spent but satellite imagery reveals no work whatsoever--were common across states. Matiyadand Plantation in Chattisgarh, has been included as a representative case. Failed sites have also been identified, as well as plantations on land that has historically been used for plantations (Bagholi Plantation, Maharashtra).
In two instances, large, inexplicable infrastructure projects were undertaken within the compensatory afforestation area, including excavation works (Pitalaragadi Plantation, Odisha) and landscaping (Thodar Plantation, Karnataka).
A final takeaway, also highlighted in the CAG report, was wastage of funds. The cost per tree (total expense divided by total reported trees planted) ranged from Rs. 34 to Rs. 296. 6 of 17 sites reported spending more than Rs. 100 per tree. There was also visible inflation of reported saplings planted by analysing plantation area.
Although ground verification of these sites is pending, the MoEFCC website reveals that these plantations are set up under the Compensatory Afforestation (CA) fund, state afforestation schemes (such as Haritha Haram in Andhra Pradesh, Ama Jungle Yojana in Odisha) and various forest department plans. These are a part of the government’s offset programme to compensate for forests lost to development projects with artificial plantations in other areas. With the enactment of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAF Act) in 2016 and the imminent finalization of CAF Rules, more than Rs. 50,000 crores are to be channeled to the forest department to further upscale these initiatives.
We recommend that an independent authority revise not only Compensatory Afforestation activities but all forest restoration activities of the Forest Department. We also recommend that alternative community-based mechanisms are sought.
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Source: Uploaded to e-Green Watch by a local FD
ArcGIS Online map of 17 sites in 8 states
Polygons (yellow) uploaded by FD to e-Green Watch
A first trend is agricultural land under cultivation being enclosed by the forest department for plantation works, seen in eight cases. Jharkhand and Odisha have the most number of such sites. As these are often the same lands that are used by adivasis and forest-dwellers, several such plantations may be in violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) as well as the Prevention of Atrocities Act. Here it is important to note that the Compensatory Afforestation
Fund (2013) guidelines dilute the rights protected in Forest Rights Act (2006) by only requiring consultation with communities rather than free, prior, and informed consent.
Additionally, plantations have been set up on recently deforested/cleared lands, which may have been cleared for the purpose of tree plantation. A total of nine cases show this disturbing trend, which violates the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) and Supreme Court directives. This was visible across the board but most notable in the sites from Karnataka. There was evidence of good natural growth being cleared even in arid areas, for example in Ananthapur, Andhra Pradesh (Maddulapaya RF).