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Approach:

  1. Introduction
  2. State the basic contents of Forest Conservation rules.
  3. Highlight the changed provisions in the FCR 2022.
  4. Point out the associated concerns.
  5. Conclusion

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has notified the Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 under the Forest Conservation Act. The Union Government has updated the rules in order to improve the efficiency of forest diversion and streamline the process. However many experts have criticized the new rules.

Forest Conservation Rules:

The Forest Conservation Rules deal with the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980. They prescribe the procedure to be followed for diversion of forest land for non-forestry uses such as road construction, highway development, railway lines, and mining.

The broad aims of the Forest Conservation Act are to protect forest and wildlife, act as a check on the State Governments’ attempts to divert forest land for commercial projects and strive to increase the area under forests. For forest land beyond 5 hectares, approval for diverting land must be given by the Union Government, through the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). The Committee examines whether the user agency has made a convincing case for the upheaval of that specific land. The Committee also ensures that diversion of land doesn’t cause damage to wildlife habitat.

Once the FAC is convinced and approves (or rejects a proposal), it is forwarded to the concerned State Government where the land is located. The State Government then has to ensure that provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006 are duly complied. The FAC approval also means that the future users of the land must provide compensatory land for afforestation as well as pay the net present value (ranging between 10-15 lakh per hectare.)

New Forest Conservation Rules:

The rules shift the responsibility of the Union government to take the consent of tribals onto the State Governments. It means that the burden to ensure the rights of Scheduled Tribes to their traditional forestlands is now with the State Governments. A project, once approved by the FAC, will then be passed on to the State authorities who will collect the compensatory fund and process it for final approval. The new rules allow the Union Government to permit the clearing of a forest before consulting its inhabitants.

Also, the handover of the forest can be approved & the Union Government can collect payment of compensatory afforestation from the private developer even before the State Government ensures consent of the forest dwellers. The rules make a provision for private parties to cultivate plantations and sell them as land to companies who need to meet compensatory afforestation targets.

Concerns:

  • There is a lack of clarity regarding what will happen to tribals and forest-dwelling communities whose land would be taken away for developmental work.
  • Further, the wording of new rules implies that it is not mandatory to take the consent of Gram Sabha before diversion of forest.
  • It permits clearing of a forest before consulting its inhabitants. This is akin to forced consent. Once forest clearance has been granted, no claims will be recognized and settled.
  • The rules are being criticized as a tool to promote ease of doing business for a chosen few but will end the ‘ease of living’ for the many forest dwellers.
  • The new rules were promulgated without any consultation and discussion with the stakeholders.

The new Forest Conservation Rules should be reviewed after constructive debates and discussions with the concerned stakeholders. They must be tuned to reflect upon the indispensable significance of tribal & forest rights and the Government’s duty to protect the same.

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