Recently, a Parliamentary committee has endorsed the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 introduced as Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023.
The report was prepared by the 31-member joint committee on Amendment Bill which is going to be tabled in Parliament ahead of the monsoon session.
A draft copy of the Bill has been in the public domain, for comment, since June 2022.
The amendments were introduced in the Lok Sabha only on March 2023.
This has invited opposition from multiple quarters, including some north-eastern States.
The Lok Sabha moved a motion to refer the Bill to a joint committee, which was seconded by the Rajya Sabha.
About the proposed Amendments:
Dilution’ of the Supreme Court’s 1996 judgment in the Godavarman case that extended protection to wide tracts of forests, even if they were not recorded as forests.
In geographically sensitive areas within 100 km of the International Borders or the Line of Control, no forest clearance required to construct highways, hydel power projects and so on.
No Central protection for vast tracts of so-called ‘deemed forest’ (forests not officially recorded as forests) and permitting activities such as tourism, compromising their integrity.
The proposal to change the name of the 1980 law from the Forest (Conservation) Act to the Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, which literally translates to Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act, was objected.
The objections were also on the grounds that it was “non-inclusive” and left out “vast tracks of population both in South India and also in the North-East.
Need for amendment:
‘Forest cover’, in India, refers to land greater than one hectare in size where the tree canopy density is greater than 10%.
India’s total forest cover rose to 38,251 sq. km from 2001 to 2021.
This increase was mainly in terms of open forest cover, where tree canopy density ranges from 10% to 40%.
Forest cover in regions classified as ‘dense forest’ actually decreased during that period.
The amendments which encourage plantation cultivation may increase tree cover, but will be unable to stem the loss of dense forests.
Forests Classification in India:
Reserved Forests: Reserve forests are the most restricted forests and are constituted by the State Government on any forest land or wasteland which is the property of the Government.
In reserved forests, local people are prohibited, unless specifically allowed by a Forest Officer in the course of the settlement.
Protected Forests: The State Government is empowered to constitute any land other than reserved forests as protected forests over which the Government has proprietary rights and the power to issue rules regarding the use of such forests.
This power has been used to establish State control over trees, whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products have revenue-raising potential.
Village forest: Village forests are the one in which the State Government may assign to ‘any village’ community the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a ‘reserved forest’.
Degree of protection: Reserved forests > Protected forests > Village forests.