Recently, the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 has been passed by the Lok Sabha, and it aims to bring significant changes to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which is a crucial central statute for the conservation of forests in India.
GS III: Environment and Ecology
Dimensions of the Article:
- Background on Forest Laws in India
- Key Features of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023
- Positive Takeaway from the Forest Amendment Bill
- Criticism of the Forest Amendment Bill
Background on Forest Laws in India:
- The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was enacted to manage timber and other forest resources.
- It allows state governments to declare their forest land as reserved or protected forests.
- Land rights in such areas are subject to the provisions of the Act.
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 was introduced to prevent extensive deforestation.
- It mandates the approval of the central government for any diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
Increased pressure on forest land:
- The Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests (2019) highlighted the rising pressure on forest land due to factors like industrial demands, agriculture, and demand for forest produce.
Restrictions on forest land diversion:
- The 1980 Act imposes specific limitations on diverting forest land for non-forest purposes.
Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill:
- This proposed bill seeks to modify the criteria for including and excluding forest land from the Act’s jurisdiction.
Key Features of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023:
Inclusion of Land under the Act:
- The Bill includes two categories of land under the purview of the Act:
- (i) Land declared/notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or any other law.
- (ii) Land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after October 25, 1980, in a government record.
Exemption of Certain Types of Land:
- Certain types of land are exempted from the provisions of the Act, such as forest land along a rail line or a public road maintained by the government.
Approval Requirement for Assigning Forest Land:
- The Bill extends the requirement of prior approval from the central government to assign forest land to all entities, including those owned and controlled by the government.
- Prior approval is subject to terms and conditions prescribed by the central government.
De-reservation and Non-Forest Purposes:
- The Act restricts the de-reservation of forests or the use of forest land for non-forest purposes.
- The central government may grant approval to lift such restrictions.
- Non-forest purposes include using the land for horticultural crops or any purpose other than reafforestation.
- The Bill adds more activities to the list of exclusions from non-forest purposes, including zoos, safaris, ecotourism facilities, silvicultural operations, and other purposes specified by the central government.
Central Government’s Directions:
- The central government is empowered to issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any authority or organization recognized by the center, state, or union territory (UT).
Positive Takeaway from the Forest Amendment Bill:
Encouragement of Plantations and Carbon Sink:
- The amendments specifically encourage the practice of cultivating plantations on non-forest land, which can increase tree cover, act as a carbon sink, and contribute to India’s goal of being ‘net zero’ in emissions by 2070.
Infrastructure Development and Livelihood Opportunities:
- The amendments remove restrictions on creating infrastructure that aids national security and creates livelihood opportunities for communities living on the periphery of forests.
Criticism of the Forest Amendment Bill:
Dilution of Supreme Court Judgement:
- Some critics argue that the proposed amendments “dilute” the Supreme Court’s 1996 judgement in the Godavarman case, which extended protection to wide tracts of forests even if they were not recorded as forests.
- However, the Environment Ministry claims that the provisions in the Bill guard against such situations.
Opposition from Northeastern States:
- Several Northeastern states have expressed opposition to the Bill, raising concerns that large portions of forest land would be unilaterally taken away for defense purposes.
- It is important to note that the positive takeaways and criticisms reflect different perspectives on the Forest Amendment Bill.