In a first, carbon sinks for developments projects in Andaman and Nicobar Islands will be created over 2,000 kilometres away in Madhya Pradesh with the help of private players, government officials in the state and the islands said.
Though this would end the union territory’s predicament of where to do compensatory afforestation, it would also allow private participation in the government’s forestation programme.
Madhya Pradesh has about 1,000 degraded forest sites on over 40,000 hectares of land, where compensatory afforestation on behalf of Andaman and Nicobar islands will take place, MP forest officials said. For this, the Andaman and Nicobar Island administration will provide Rs1,480 crore to the MP government.
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In October 2020, the environment ministry had written a letter to Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan seeking their land for compensatory afforestation for development works in the island region.
The implementation of 10 development and 11 tourism projects in Andaman and Nicobar was being hindered by the non-availability of land for afforestation as 92% of geographical area of the UT is already covered in forests. The Union Territory is extremely short of revenue land — just 683sqkm, of which a major portion is used up for social and physical infrastructure. This leaves the islands with only 8sqkm for development work. Afforestation in such a green area is, obviously, difficult.
In August 2020, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands’ chief secretary wrote to the Centre about the predicament. He was prompted by the ministry’s notification of May, 2019 that allows states and Union Territories with over 75% of their land under forest cover to undertake compensatory afforestation in other states. Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland fall in this category.
As per the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, when there is diversion of forest land for any development project, compensatory afforestation is required on an equivalent area of non-forest land or double the area of degraded forest land. Since development projects in Andaman & Nicobar Islands are expected to cover 20,000 hectare of forest land, compensatory afforestation in MP will take place in double the area of degraded forest land, MP forest department officials said.
Madhya Pradesh has 36,465sqkm of degraded forest area.
“We may need about Rs1,480 crore from the islands’ administration for the compensatory afforestation which will be accomplished in different phases and will take at least three years,” said additional principal chief conservator of forest (land management), Madhya Pradesh, Sunil Agrawal.
Additional principal chief conservator of forest (development), Madhya Pradesh, Chitranjan Tyagi said, “The project will benefit the islands and Madhya Pradesh both. In our state the local community living in the vicinity of the sites chosen for the compensatory afforestation will have employment for at least for three or four years during afforestation and later a permanent source of livelihood as species of plants will be chosen to ensure that local people have forest produce.”
Additional conservator of forest, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Anil Kumar said, “We have projects in great Nicobar and little Andaman areas (for which compensatory afforestation is needed). We have got two proposals from Madhya Pradesh. They will be implemented as per Niti Aayog’s plan.”
According to the Niti Aayog proposal, compensatory afforestation has to be implemented with the help of private players as the national forestation programme has not achieved desired results. The private players will be allowed to harvest timber and non-timber produce and develop eco-camping and wilderness camps to create employment for local communities, the proposal had said.
Retired head of forest force in Madhya Pradesh, RK Dave, said, “This is going to help Madhya Pradesh. First, MP is going to get funds from the A&N administration. Secondly, compensatory afforestation will be done in degraded forest areas which anyway have to be used for afforestation. Third, it is going to increase our forest cover and fourth, it is going to give employment to local people and also a source of livelihood through sale of forest produce.”
Forests have the ability to absorb carbon emissions and fight climate change. According to the Forest Survey of India report of 2019, the carbon stock in Indian forests (excluding trees outside notified forests) has increased from 7.08 billion tonnes in 2017 to 7.124 billion tonnes in 2019.
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