Asking where is the money collected under compensatory afforestation funds being invested, a Supreme Court judge on Saturday said the environment has degraded over the last few years, suggesting that the funds have certainly not gone to the green cause. Speaking at the International Conference on Environment here, Justice MB Lokur also justified judicial activism due to absence of laws and poor implementation of the existing laws. The Compensatory Afforestation Funds has over Rs. 40,000 crore, with shares of the Centre and states, released in July last year after being passed by the Rajya Sabha.
The fund is meant to aid both Centre and states in afforestation activities and is supposed to be controlled by the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). “Huge amounts of money running into thousands of crores of rupees have been collected by the government. Where has that money gone? That money has certainly not gone for the improvement of environment because the environment has degraded over the last few years,” Justice Lokur said at the meet, organised by the National Green tribunal (NGT) with support from the Union Environment Ministry.
However, Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, who was the Environment Minister in 2016 and under whose leadership the funds were mobilised, opposed what Justice Lokur said and explained that the government had a good account and the funds were being invested in renewable energy. “The funds are being invested in climate change and renewable energy. They are not being diverted anywhere,” Javadekar said. Justice Lokur also said that there was dearth of environmental laws in India and the Parliament needed to frame laws on a variety of issues that confront the mankind.
“We need to frame laws so that there is clear understanding of the problems,” he said, adding that despite excellent laws being framed, the implementation remained “shoddy”. He added that the Supreme Court had been involved in environmental jurisprudence since long and since the courts could not bear the burden alone, the government must share the burden. Rebutting what the judge had to say, Javadekar, who was the Environment Minister when landmark Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, pointed out some of the maor steps taken against climate change.
Imposing high cess on coal production, more than in any other country (six dollars per tonne), investment in the renewables and the target to implement cleaner Bharat Standard (BS)-VI emission norms by January 1, 2020, were some of the major steps in this direction, he said. “But you need time and it can’t happen overnight. You can’t stop vehicles from plying. There has to be a concrete and feasible plan,” Javadekar said.
The HRD Minister also pointed out that with only 2.5 per cent of world’s land and 17 per cent of the human population, country was already facing challenges due to the burden on resources. Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who was also present at the conference, emphasised on combating climate change and said he was looking at 100 per cent electrification of the railway fleet as even after seven decades of Independence, 50 per cent of the trains entering Delhi had diesel engines. Stating that India has already achieved 12,200mw of solar capacity so far, the Railway Minister said the country was well poised to reach its target of 100gw capacity by 2022.
Goyal added that his ministry (Coal) used Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s satellite technology to map the areas that had been converted into forests and put it in the public domain.