India plans to increase the amount of forest covering the country from 21% to 33% at a cost of $6.2bn.
A law called the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill has been passed in the parliament’s lower house. The bill still has to be passed by the Council of States, India’s upper house.
Funding for the project will come from money paid to the Indian government from companies that are allowed to work on forest land.
India’s Centre for Science and Environment says that since 1980, 1.3 million ha of forests have been used "for non-forestry purposes".
The bill says: "Apart from mitigating the impact of the diversion of forest land, afforestation will result in the creation of productive assets and the generation of huge employment opportunities in the rural areas, especially backward tribal areas."
Sreedhar Ramamurthi, an earth scientist and management trustee at Environs Trust, said: "I have my reservations about this project. There should be a mechanism to monitor that the funds are used correctly.
"Many a time, forest officials themselves burn down forests when they are pressed to meet targets and complain that their work was lost in fires."
"There is no clarity on how the government will develop these new forests. Are you going to throw people off their land? If so, why did you allow forests to be depleted in the first case? This is a kind of double whammy."
Image: A forest in Uttarakhand, India (Travelling Slacker/Wikimedia Commons)