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Why are ‘Unclassed’ Forests Missing


In accordance with a Supreme Court directive, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has uploaded various State Expert Committee (SEC) reports on its website. This interim measure was prompted by a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutionality of the Forest (Conservation) Act Amendment (FCAA) 2023. A primary concern raised in the petition was the status of unclassed forests, which were to be identified by the state SEC reports.


GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Unclassed Forests
  2. Reasons for Missing ‘Unclassed’ Forests
  3. Consequences of Missing Forests and Way Ahead

Unclassed Forests:


  • Unclassed or deemed forests are areas that may belong to various government entities, community forests, or private ownership but have not been officially notified as forests.

Legal Protection:

  • Unclassed forests gained legal protection following the landmark case of T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996). This case stipulated that all categories of forests, regardless of ownership and notification status, fall under the ambit of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.

Identification Process:

  • Special Environment Committees (SECs) were tasked with identifying unclassed forests across the country through available records and physical identification, irrespective of ownership.

Regulatory Stipulations:

  • The Forest (Conservation) Act Amendment (FCAA) makes prior approval of the Central Government necessary for dereservation of reserved forests, use of forest land for non-forest purposes, assigning forest land to private entities, or clearing naturally grown trees for reafforestation.

Applicability of FCAA:

  • The FCAA applies to land notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or in government records after the 1980 Act came into effect. However, it excludes certain land categories, including those recorded as forest before October 25, 1980, but not notified, and land that changed from forest-use to non-forest-use before December 12, 1996.


  • This provision may contradict the 1996 Supreme Court judgment aimed at preventing deforestation, potentially leading to the loss of protection for unclassed forests and their eventual diversion.

Reasons for Missing ‘Unclassed’ Forests:

Lack of Data Verification:

  • SEC reports on unclassed forests, as uploaded on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) website, lack verifiable data on identification, status, and location of such forests.

Non-Constitution of SECs:

  • Several states and Union Territories (UTs), including Goa, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, appear not to have constituted SECs at all.

Reliance on Questionable Data Sources:

  • Many states have used existing forest and revenue department data, while some have quoted figures from the Forest Survey of India (FSI). However, the SEC reports question the accuracy of FSI data.

Discrepancies in Reported Data:

  • Discrepancies exist between SEC reports and FSI data, as seen in the case of Gujarat, where the reported area of unclassed forests differs significantly.

Lack of Geographic Location Specification:

  • Most states and UTs have not specified the geographic locations of forests in their SEC reports.

Consequences of Missing Forests and Way Ahead:

Environmental Degradation:

  • The absence of on-ground verification by SECs may have led to widespread destruction of forests that should have been identified and protected following the 1996 verdict.

Lack of Diligence by MoEFCC:

  • Promulgating the Forest (Conservation) Act Amendment (FCAA) without examining SEC reports reflects a lack of diligence on the part of MoEFCC, with potential detrimental consequences for India’s ecosystems and ecological security.

Accountability and Remedial Action:

  • Those responsible for the oversight need to be held accountable, and the national government should take action to re-identify, retrieve, and protect forest areas as per the 1996 judgment.

Missed Opportunity for Forest Cover Goals:

  • Failure to address this issue represents a lost opportunity to fulfill the goals of the Indian Forest Policy, which aims for 33.3% forest cover in plains and 66.6% in hills.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024