The Indian government is planning on spending an impressive $6.2 billion on reforesting parts of the country. The scheme, which has unilateral support and has already been passed by members of India’s lower house of Parliament, is now just waiting to be passed by the upper house. The aim is to increase the overall forest cover of the nation, which currently covers 21 percent of the country’s surface, up to 33 percent over the coming years.
The developing country is also currently undergoing rapid industrialization, and is currently one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. In 2015, India submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which details the nation's plan to cut its emissions by 33 to 35 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, as the new scheme is officially known, is seen as part of this commitment.
“I am sure that this fund will give a tremendous push in our afforestation movement,” India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters outside of Parliament on May 3. “Our forest cover will dramatically increase and it will result in achieving our target 33 per cent of tree cover and most importantly 2.5 billion tonne of carbon sink as we have indicated in our INDCs.”
The money has been collected by the government over the past 12 years from various private companies who have paid fees to let them set up projects on forested land. In a country that has one of the largest human populations, currently estimated at around 1.2 billion people, the environment has come under increasing pressure. While historically nature has suffered, it seems that potentially things might change, however slightly.
Yet some have criticized the plan, especially as there is currently no mechanism in place with which to monitor the scheme to check exactly where the funds are being directed, especially in a country often overshadowed by the specter of corruption. There are even reports of forestry officials burning down their own patches of forest they are meant to be protecting when they don’t reach targets and then blaming their failure on forest fires.
Others question the government on a scheme to replant forests using money they have collected from industry for building on forestland in the first place. Not only that, but where are they to find the new bits of land to reforest? Will it, for example, require turning over agricultural land, in turn forcing people out in order to fulfil the project? This remains to be seen.