14th Finance Commission and green bonus

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *

The 14th Finance Commission on Oct 7 at Imphal
The 14th Finance Commission on Oct 7 at Imphal :: Pix - TSE

We have been talking about green, many things with green and the Green Bonus is one of them. Green Bonus is a new term in the environmental parlance denoting the money which is to be given for the effort made by a country, state or community for preservation of green cover. It is a compensation to be given to the people for the sacrifices they have made in preserving the green cover, which not only benefits them, but also benefits others nearby and humanity as a whole. So, in the 14th Finance Commission Awards, green bonus need to be given adequate consideration.

We know that the Uttarakhand is likely to get a green bonus for ecosystem services of its forests. The Environment Minister has given a green signal a few months back, might have been a bit influenced by the recent disaster the state had during June last. In fact, many states are clamouring for a green bonus from the centre.

The states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have been pioneers. They have substantial areas under forest cover. Of late, Maharashtra also joined the party. Other states likely to get benefit of Green Bonus are Kerala, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. There was an interim order of the Supreme Court passed in course of interlocutory applications (IA 424) of W.P (C) 202/1995 that the forest deficit states should pay the forest surplus states.

It was technically and logically sound idea because the forest surplus states live with a lot of handicaps due to the overbearing existence of forests, its benefit of ecosystem services and environmental amelioration shared by forest deficit states. But due to pressure from the large forest deficit states, the burden has been taken over by the centre.

The awards under 13th FC was meant to be in the form of green bonus with forest as the main parameter. But is not the case. It has been worked out on the mechanism of EPI (Environmental performance index) with only 2% weightage, in which not only the forest cover, growing stock and afforestation, there are other factors such as sewage treatment, air quality, climate change preparedness etc.

There is a need to have a separate recognition for protection of forest cover, carbon stock and biodiversity, a bonus for that under the 14th Finance Commission. It need not be diluted with the fallouts of modern development like green house gases, sewage treatment and water pollution.

The forests of Manipur play an important role in the life of the people through the ecosystem services. The ecosystem services rendered by forests of Manipur can be valued to at least 1-1.5 lakhs crores of rupees for the different types of services such as Supporting services (nutrient dispersal and cycling), Provisioning services (food, energy, timber, medicines), Regulating services (carbon stocking, pest & disease control, purification of water and air) and cultural services (recreational, scientific, spiritual) etc.

As per NPV(net present value) method, it has been valued at 1.34 lakhs crore rupees (Bisht & Singsit). In terms of total carbon stocks, Manipur stands at 16th position (Source: Carbon Stocks in India’s Forests by FSI). . The total carbon stock of the state is 138 million tonnes (208 million cum) including below ground biomass (BGB) and Soil Organic Matter (SOM). This could be of monetary equivalence of 25,000 crores of rupees. The Forest of Manipur is very important from the present and potential level of sequestration to mitigate the impacts of global warming.

Does Manipur deserve a green bonus? We have to have a close look and analyse the relevant data to draw a comparison without any bias so that the interests of the state are not ignored. Though the abovementioned states have substantial areas under forests, their percentage forest cover is quite low in comparison with their geographical area. In case of Manipur, we have a large extent of forest cover.

According to the India’s State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2011, the state stands at 16th position in extent of Forest Cover. In terms of percentage of Forest Cover vis-ŕ-vis geographical area, Manipur stands at 7th position. The extent is much above the requirements as per the National Forest Policy (NFP), 1988 (in spite of the loss of 190 sqkm in 2011 report). The excess over the NFP level is our contribution to the national cause.

In most parts of the country, more forest cover means poverty, and backwardness. Due to restrictions under conservation laws, new industries and roads cannot come up, railway lines cannot be laid. New commercial places cannot be set up. The opportunities for development are lost due to forest cover and the society suffers.

Unless, there is a new approach backed up by green bonus for the opportunity lost by the people of Manipur, there will be more difficulty in saving the forests, because whatever forests are left, they are precariously balanced and vulnerable. This bonus shall act as green security, to check further loss of forests.

Manipur is among the poorest states having third lowest GDP in the country, having only about half of the national GDP and far below Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland. Its poverty being related to the extent of forest cover and lack of industry needs a bonus to boost its economy to reduce people’s dependence on forests.

There are a lot many things the forest rich states have to say. At national level, the people who cleared their forests get schemes and projects easily and whereas, if people preserve forest, they get nothing. If this situation is not reversed, and people are rewarded, protection of forests may be extremely difficult.

That is why the Chief Ministers of Himalayan States like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have been making persistent demand for green bonus in addition to 13th Finance Commission Awards in lieu of the opportunity cost they are foregoing. The green bonus has to act as green security against further depletion. There can be a reasonable bonus, for about ten years.

The demand of Himachal Pradesh has been supported even by the Union Ministers. The commitment of the centre that the Himalayan States should be given green bonus has been in the news for quite some time. The Himachal and Uttarakhand have been expecting green bonus for some time.

Considering the need to improve the growing stock of forests, the provide food security to jhuming families and considering the ecosystem services that the forests of Manipur is rendering to the people of the state and adjoining states, it will be good if Manipur also can get a green bonus. It can be used to reward the people in the villages who have been instrumental in protecting the forests.

Now that the 14th Finance Commission is in the offing it is time that we understand our position.

* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 08, 2013.

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