Our Bureau

New Delhi, June 5

The private sector may soon be able to invest in plantations that would help restore degraded forest area and in community land provided they share the benefits with stakeholders including local community and landowning agency.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests plans to send a proposal to the Union Cabinet soon that would allow this mechanism. The current policy doesn't allow private investors to set up plantations in forest land on lease.

The Ministry is also working on similar proposals to allow private sector participation in affluent treatment, solid waste management, sewage disposal, and eco-tourism, said Dr Prodipto Ghosh, Secretary.

"The Ministry is working towards developing an MoU for operationalising multi-stakeholder partnership framework, providing for private sector investment in the field of restoration of degraded forest area and community land, with benefit sharing with the local community and the land owning agency, and with the Forest Department as watchdog of proper implementation of MoU," said Mr A. Raja, Minister of Environment and Forests.

He was speaking at a function on the occasion of World Environment Day organised by the CII.

The proposal is being finalised with the Planning Commission and the Finance Ministry.

"The proposal would allow private investors to bid for (degraded) forest land where they can harvest ... those investors who offer to share the maximum benefits with all stakeholders like the landowners and the local community would given the (chunk of) land," Dr Ghosh said, on the sidelines of the function.

Indicating that the land would be given out on lease for long duration, Dr Ghosh said: "The land ownership would not be transferred to the investors ... the duration for the partnerships would be in the range of 30-50 years."

He added that the proposal would be sent to the Cabinet in 2-3 weeks.

On how the local community may be defined, he said: "It would be the village sabha concerned."

India has over 127 million hectares of arid and semi-arid land across more than 10 States, constituting 39 per cent of the geographical area.

The National Environment Policy, 2006 - approved by the Cabinet in May 2006 - is the first initiative in strategy formulation for environmental protection, Mr Raja said, adding that it has undertaken a diagnosis of the causative factors of land degradation with the intent of arriving at the remedial measures.

The Policy recognises that fiscal and sectoral policies need to take explicit account of their unintentional impacts on land degradation so that the livelihoods for the vast populaces are not irreparably damaged, he added.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 6, 2006)
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