India To Spend $6 Billion On Creating New Forests

India is planning to spend 41,000 rupees ($6.2 billion) on an unprecedented afforestation program to increase the nation’s forest cover.

Forests currently cover about 21 percent of the vast subcontinent’s surface. Under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF), which was passed with support all across the political spectrum in 2015, that cover will be increased to 33 percent in the coming years.

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“I am sure that this fund will give a tremendous push in our afforestation movement,” India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters outside Parliament on May 3. “Our forest cover will dramatically increase and it will result in achieving our target 33 percent of tree cover and most importantly 2.5 billion tonne of carbon sink as we have indicated in our INDCs.”

As the home to over 1.25 billion people, India contains 17.5 percent of Earth’s human population and is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses of all countries. Increasing forest cover plays an integral role in helping to curb the environmental impact of those emissions under the nation’s new climate plan, also known as its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

In addition to producing oxygen, trees also breathe in carbon dioxide, which makes them one of the most significant and efficient carbon sinks on our planet. Scientists estimate that the world’s forests negate the greenhouse effects of more than a quarter of all human carbon emissions, making large-scale afforestation projects like the CAF an effective weapon against air pollution and anthropogenic climate change.

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The afforestation bill was introduced last year in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Bicameral-Parliament. It proposes that money, which has been accruing for the last 12 years from fees paid by private companies allowing them to set up projects on forest land be appropriated for the project. Ninety percent of the accumulated funds will go to individual states for their afforestation projects, with the remaining being kept with the central government.

“This was the historic because for the last 12 years the funds meant for afforestation were deposited in only banks and were not used on the ground. Now this bill has facilitated that the money will be given to the states for using it on afforestation with better evaluation and monitoring by using technology,” said Javadekar.

India’s forest cover has been slowly increasing in recent years thanks to increased political interest in environmental conservation, but the new afforestation project is expected to facilitate an exponentially larger spike in forest increase.

India has been finding itself on the frontlines of the afforestation movement of late. Last year Jadav “Molai” Payeng of Jorhat, India, was awarded one of the nation’s highest civilian honors for single-handedly planting an entire forest reserve of several thousand trees over a span of 30 years in what has understandably been called the single biggest achievement of man in the modern world. The reserve (known as Molai Forest in his honor) is now a conservation home to an abundance of native Indian wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger and Indian rhinoceros.

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Payeng is a member of the Mishing tribe and lives in a small hut in the forest, where he raises buffalo and cattle and sells their milk, his only means of income. He has remained an active environmentalist, continuing to add to and maintain the forest and speaking out against human encroachment into wildlife habitats.

[Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images]