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Laws Governing Forests of the Northeast

Context:

On August 22, the Mizoram Assembly passed a resolution unanimously to oppose the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023. This amendment permits the use of forest land for various projects within 100 km of India’s international borders without the need for forest clearance. The Mizoram Assembly’s move is aimed at safeguarding the rights and interests of its people. This amendment affects most of India’s Northeast. Nagaland is expected to follow suit in the coming week, facing similar demands to oppose the amendment. Notably, even states like Tripura, Mizoram, and Sikkim, governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its allies, have expressed their opposition to the 100-km exemption clause.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Is FCA Applicable to the Northeast?
  2. Understanding RFA and Its Impact
  3. FRA Act and Protecting Forests in Northeast India

Is FCA Applicable to the Northeast?

Constitutional Protections for Northeast States

  • Article 371A for Nagaland and 371G for Mizoram offer constitutional protections.
  • Laws enacted by Parliament affecting customary law, land, and resources need Assembly approval.

Application of FCA in Nagaland

  • In 1986, Nagaland extended FCA to government forests and certain wildlife sanctuaries.
  • Controversy arose over the applicability of FCA.
  • Home Ministry initially said FCA doesn’t apply as per land resources.
  • Environment Ministry later contradicted this, leading to no FCA clearances since 1980.

Application of FCA in Mizoram

  • Mizoram gained statehood in 1986 with Article 371G extension, including FCA.
  • Autonomous District Councils’ powers don’t extend to reserved forests.
  • FCA covers 84.53% of notified forests, with some receiving FCA clearance.

FCA in the Rest of Northeast

  • FCA applies in Meghalaya, Tripura, Sixth Schedule Areas in these states, and Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur.
  • Arunachal Pradesh leads in FCA clearances, followed by Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, and Meghalaya.

Understanding RFA and Its Impact

FCA and Forest Diversions

  • Over 1 million hectares of forest diverted under FCA since 1980.
  • FCA’s aim: Forest deforestation as per Indian Forest Act 1927.

Expansion of “Forest Land”

  • Supreme Court, in 1996 Godavarman case, broadened “forest land” in FCA.
  • Now includes any area marked as forest, regardless of ownership.
  • Includes unclassed forests, recorded but not notified.

Recorded Forest Area (RFA) in Northeast

  • Over half of Northeast is RFA.
  • RFA has 53% unclassed forests, governed by local customary laws.
  • Rest are notified forests controlled by State Forest Departments.

Variation in RFA in Northeast

  • RFA varies from 34.21% in Assam to 82.31% in Sikkim.
  • Mizoram (35.48%), Meghalaya (42.34%), Nagaland (53.01%), Arunachal Pradesh (61.55%), Manipur (78.01%), Tripura (60.02%).

Impact of 1996 SC Order

  • SC’s 1996 order applies FCA to unclassed forests nationwide.

Forests Outside RFA

  • Some forests aren’t recorded or surveyed.
  • Assam (38.5%), Nagaland (29%), Mizoram (1.5%).

FRA Act and Protecting Forests in Northeast India

Inclusion of “Forest Land”

  • FRA Act 2006 defines “forest land” broadly, following 1996 Supreme Court redefinition.
  • Encompasses various types of forests, including unclassified and protected ones.

Provisions in FRA

  • FRA includes a provision allowing recognition of rights under state laws, autonomous district council laws, or traditional tribal customs.
  • Northeastern states have not fully implemented the FRA, except Assam and Tripura.

Mizoram’s Case

  • Mizoram initially extended FRA in 2009 but later declared it irrelevant in 2019 due to a lack of claims.
  • Mentioned the Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ refusal to sanction funds as a reason.

Nagaland’s Status

  • Nagaland Assembly is still deliberating whether to implement the FRA as per Article 371A.
Protecting Forests
  • The Environment Ministry mandated FRA compliance for forest diversion proposals in 2009.
  • However, the 2022 Forest Conservation Rules shifted this compliance requirement to later stages.
  • States can enforce mandatory FRA fulfillment before recommending forest diversion and ensure Gram Sabha consent.
  • The Ministry of Tribal Affairs can issue legally enforceable directions or enact a separate law to recognize and settle forest rights when forests are diverted and dwellers are relocated.

Ensuring Tenurial Security

  • States and the Tribal Affairs Ministry have a role in providing tenurial security to forest-dwellers while protecting forests.

-Source: The Hindu


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