India : Compensatory Afforestation Program evicts more Tribals during COVID-19
With over 104 million people, India has the second largest population of indigenous peoples in the world, who are officially recognized as Scheduled Tribes. With 40.6% of the Scheduled Tribe population living below poverty line, compared to 20.5% of the non-tribal population, as per the 2011 census, they were particularly vulnerable to the impact of the COVID-19.
On 12 May 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a special economic package of Rs. 20,00,000 crore under the ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’ (India Self Reliance Movement), to aid India out of the Coronavirus crisis. The economic package included Rs. 6,000 crore funds from the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund established under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 or erstwhile Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to create job opportunities including for tribal communities in semi-urban and rural areas. The CAMPA funds are contributory funds towards compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value and all other amounts recovered from user agencies under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for conversion of forest lands towards non-forest purposes whether residential, commercial, mining or industrial purposes. From 1980 to present, for 32,538 projects, a total of 334,507 hectares of forest land had been diverted under the FCA. On 12 March 2021, the MoEFCC informed parliament that 2,57,950.41 hectares of forest land were approved for diversions for non-forest use for a total of 11,653 projects from April 2008 to March 2020.
During COVID-19 lockdown, funds from the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund were used to carry out afforestation programmes on the lands and habitations of indigenous peoples even before the adjudication of the claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 (hereinafter referred to as the Forest Rights Act or FRA) and in violations of the specific direction of the Supreme Court vide order dated 28 February 2019 not to evict any tribal or other forest dweller even whose claims have been rejected by the authorities until further order from the Supreme Court.
This report is published by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).