CAMPA Act or Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act was enacted with an objective to provide an appropriate institutional mechanism, both at the Centre and in each State and Union Territory, to ensure expeditious utilization in efficient and transparent manner of amounts released in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose which would mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land.
It’s the result of the observation made by the Supreme Court in 2002 that collected funds for afforestation were underutilized by the states and it ordered for centrally pooling of funds under Compensatory Afforestation Fund. Subsequently the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (National CAMPA) was set up to manage the Fund. In 2009, states also had set up State CAMPAs that receive 10% of funds form National CAMPA to use for afforestation and forest conservation.
However, in 2013, a CAG report found out that the funds collected for the purpose continued to be underutilized which necessitated the introduction of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2015 Bill by the government in Lok Sabha in May 2015 to regulate collected funds. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in July 2016. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act, 2016 has come into force with effect from 30 September 2018.
This has resulted in establishment of two special funds out of the compensatory levies, namely the “National Compensatory Afforestation Fund” (National Fund) under the public account of India and the “State Compensatory Afforestation Fund” under public account of the respective State. 90% share of the compensatory levies is deposited in the State Fund. Prior to this, no fund was released to the States as per CAF Act, 2016.
The annual plan of operation (APO) of State Authorities consists mainly of activities related to protection and regeneration of forest and wildlife. APOs contain mandatory site specific activities like Compensatory Afforestation, Catchment Area Treatment Plan, Safety Zone Plantation etc., and non-site-specific activities like soil and moisture conservation works, forest fire prevention and control operations, assisted natural regeneration, artificial regeneration, Silvicultural operations etc. All these activities are supposed to help in improving and increasing the green cover.
Though the Act has good intention, again it’s the victim of poor implementation. In many states funds are under utilised while in some states they are not properly utilised. Take the case of Chhattisgarh, the state that gets one of the highest allocations under the Act. Chhattisgarh has spent about Rs 600 crore out of the total funds disbursed under CAF Act in last three years and out of this, hardly 18% is spent on compensatory afforestation. Rest of the money is spent under various other heads.
This year the Union Finance Minister had significantly under allocated funds to Environment Ministry in the latest budget. One of the areas which will have adverse impact of this under allocation is the national pollution control programme. On the one hand, CAMPA Fund has a huge corpus of Rs 54,400 crore while on the other, the Environment Ministry is struggling to arrange for funds for its various important programmes. Its unlikely that the Ministry will get additional funds at the time of revision of estimates as the unexpected COVID-19 has put extra financial burden on the government. Therefore, the Ministry has to find ways and means to fund its various programmes. One best way is to use the CAMPA Fund for the purpose as the country is facing an unusual situation. CAF Act may not provide for the utilisation of funds for purposes other than mentioned in the Act. But provisions can be amended through an ordinance which the government has done on several occasions in the past. This would also, to an extent, reduce the financial burden on the Ministry and it would be able to utilise the fund for its schemes with similar objectives. So, the government needs to think and act fast on these lines.