Three months after the central government announced that Rs 6,000 crore worth of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds will be used for employment generation among tribal communities under the Rs 20 lakh crore Atmanirbhar Bharat Scheme, there has been no mention of employment generation. On August 17, in a meeting with Forest Ministries of all states and union territories, Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar gave directions to states on the utilisation of CAMPA funds while announcing several new schemes to address socio-economic concerns amid COVID-19 pandemic.
The MoEFCC announced schemes included massive tree plantation, promoting urban forestry through Nagar Van Scheme, landscape based catchment treatment of 13 major rivers, LiDAR based survey of degraded forest areas for soil moisture conservation projects and launch of National Transit Portal.
Javadekar said the Finance Commission had increased the forest-based devolution of funds from 7% to 10% and raised concerns that several states are using CAMPA funds to pay salaries of forest officials or infrastructure acquisition like vehicles, etc.
Also read: Utilisation of Controversial CAMPA Funds Is Old Scheme Not COVID-19 Package: Tribal Rights Experts
After the Atmanirbhar Bharat announcement, there has been no clarity or update from the Centre on how the Rs 6,000 crore CAMPA funds will be used for employment generation during the pandemic as claimed, said Tushar Dash, independent researcher on tribal and forest rights. “There is no evidence of employment generation among adivasis using CAMPA funds for the last many years. On the contrary, as per ground realities, forest officials have been using those funds for plantations in community lands taking away the employment and livelihood of adivasis and forest dwellers,” said Dash.
Meanwhile, the Odisha state government is currently probing financial irregularities under CAMPA fund utilisation in the state’s Balugaon Range of Khordha Forest Division. State media OTV claimed it unearthed corruption to the tune of Rs 592 crore of CAMPA funds. Reportedly, under the aegis of A K Jagdev, former Balugaon Range Officer, CAMPA funds were allegedly deposited to non-beneficiary accounts and later withdrawn.
While experts have urged the government to come up with plans to address the concerns of tribals due to the lockdown and ensuing pandemic, the government announced the Rs 6,000 crore employment generation plan which did not take shape further.
“Tribal organisations and activists have been raising concerns over massive corruption in the utilisation of CAMPA Funds. During this monsoon, while states have taken up plantation drives, allegations of misuse of CAMPA funds and violation of forest rights have emerged from Telangana, Odisha and many other states. Except for one or two states, state forest departments don’t even upload the annual plan of operations for the utilisation of CAMPA funds in their respective websites,” said Jitendra Chaudhury, National Convenor of Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch.
“In many instances, Bharatiya Janata Party ruled state governments are using CAMPA funds to evict adivasis and forest dwellers from the lands they are cultivating. In some cases, tribals with Forest Right Act land titles are also evicted,” he further argued.
“The adivasis have been neglected during the current health crisis and the proper utilisation of CAMPA funds needs the involvement of tribals and consent of gram sabhas,” he added.
Earlier in July, NewsClick had reported that tribal organisations and opposition parties have been raising concerns over the ‘Haritha Haram’ (saplings plantations) Scheme by the Telangana government. While the scheme is mired in allegations that hundreds of crores of CAMPA funds are misused, numerous reports suggest that tribal groups are forcefully evicted from their lands for saplings plantations.
In May, several tribal and forest rights organisations released a report titled ‘Impact of COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown measures on tribal and other forest dwellers’, highlighting the problems of tribal communities during lockdown such as issues faced by nomadic and pastoral communities, those arising due to forest land diversions, restrictions on the movement of tribes and problems related to non recognition of forest rights and tenurial insecurity.