The Manipur High Court has directed the state additional chief secretary (forest) to submit a detailed report on Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund utilisation on July 28.
A high court bench comprising Chief Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar and Justice A Bimol in its June 3 directive stated: The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) were set up at the Centre and in the states on 2019. It stated that the funds collected by CAMPA reportedly exceeded Rs.1 lakh crore. In August 2019, CAMPA released Rs.47436.18 crore to 27 states, including Rs.309.76 crore to Manipur. Further, while announcing the stimulus package in May 2020 for combating the impact of COVID19 on the economy, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had earmarked a further sum of Rs.6000 crore from out of CAMPA funds for creating job opportunities in rural and semi-urban areas.
The court then stated that there can be no dearth of funds for carrying on afforestation activities. It would appear that there is probably a further sum of Rs.50,000 crore to be put to good use. The need of the hour is to only formulate appropriate schemes and to spend the funds raised till now and those that will come into this kitty in future in a judicious manner to achieve the forest cover of 33 per cent of the total geographical area which is envisaged in the national forest policy and thereby restore the ecology and save the environment.
The court said that the utilisation of the mentioned amount for afforestation and other forest-related activities should be submitted with breakup details of utilisation of fund.
The high court has fixed July 28 for further proceedings of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Manipur Valley Village Reserve Forest Rights Protection Association president Angom Tomba against six respondents, including Union of India on forest and reserve forest issues in Manipur.
The high court order also mentioned that the impact of deforestation and the need to restore the destroyed forests is an issue that is applicable not only to the state of Manipur but also to the whole of India and to other countries across the globe.
Based on a PIL on the issue, the court also directed state government to safeguard the forests, environment and ecology on the parameters: to take immediate measures to arrest wildfires which appear to be manmade in many cases; to arrest the illegal encroachment of forest areas for human habitations; to protect wild animals, birds, flora and fauna as provided under the Acts and Rules; to take up afforestation of lands which have been subjected to deforestation by various means including forest fires; boundary marking of forest areas by warning signs and monitoring in such manner as to avoid human contact with the wild animals, birds, flora and fauna other than for scientific research and studies; take up measures to educate people living nearby forests the need to protect the forests.
This can be done by appropriate education tools and forest study camps and it should be made as a part of school subject with practical classes using audio-visual media, the court stated.
The officials of Public Health Department, the Medical Department like virologist, infectious disease specialist and officers of the forest department should work together on a common cause and identify the key areas of wild animal-human being contacted. There should be regular screening to identify and isolate zoonotic virus transmission. They should also hold health camps on a regular basis to identify and pick up any new viral or bacterial disease.
The court said that the Union of India as a respondent may ensure that ongoing research on infectious diseases is properly funded and monitored.
During submission, Lenin Hijam, advocate of respondents cited that the illegal encroachment of forests and intentional clearing of the forests for human settlement should be closely monitored under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act and also on the basis of the directions issued by the Supreme Court. The same applies to illegal hunting of wild animals, birds, picking and uprooting specified plants which are the biodiversity of the forests. Any form of illegal encroachments into the forests and the illegal activities like burning down the forest, illegal hunting of wild animals should be strictly forbidden. It was stated that there were 11340 forest related wildfires in the state of Manipur between January, 2020 and June, 2020. This data, as stated, is a very serious issue which the state Government has to tackle on a war footing.
While hearing the submission, counsel of the petitioner Kh Tarunkumar referred to a publication by the state government titled “Reserved Forests and Protected Forests of Manipur ''. It contains the details of Reserved and Protected Forests of Manipur, the map and locations, area and the nature of forests, the flora and fauna of Manipur.