The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified the Forest Conservation Rules, 2022, which will replace the earlier rules notified in 2003.
About Provisions of Forest (Conservation) Rules,2022:
The Forest Conservation Rules deal with the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980.
They prescribe the procedure to be followed for forest land to be diverted for non-forestry uses such as road construction, highway development, railway lines, and mining.
For forest land beyond five hectares, approval for diverting land must be given by the Central government. This is via a specially constituted committee, called the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
Forest Advisory Committee:
It is a regional empowered committee at each of the integrated regional offices and a screening committee at the State/Union Territory (UT) government level.
This committee examines whether the user agency (applicants for diverting forest land) or those who have requested forest land, have made a convincing case for the upheaval of that specific parcel of land.
It also examines whether they have a plan in place to ensure that the ensuing damage from the felling of trees in that area, denuding the local landscape will be minimal and the said piece of land doesn’t cause damage to wildlife habitat.
If convinced the committee then forwards the proposal to the concerned State government where the land is located, which then has to ensure that provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006, a separate Act that protects the rights of forest dwellers and tribals over their land, are complied with.
What do the updated rules say?
The new rules, “streamline” the process of approvals. The rules make a provision for private parties to cultivate plantations and sell them as land to companies who need to meet compensatory forestation targets.
It will help India increase forest cover.
It will also solve the problems of the States of not finding land within their jurisdiction for compensatory purposes.
The concerned update sought to limit the necessity for consent from the gram Sabha. Accordingly, the States will ensure “settlement” of Forest Rights Acts applicable.
How will the new rules affect tribal rights?
Missing elements of tribals and forest-dwelling communities: The updated Forest Conservation Rules don’t talk about the tribals and forest-dwelling communities whose land would be hived off for developmental work.
The new rules allow the Union government to permit the clearing of a forest for a project before prior consent of the forest dwellers, as mandated under the 2006 Act.
Earlier the state bodies would forward documents to the FAC that would also include information on the status of whether the forest rights of locals in the area were settled.
Earlier such proposals would not be entertained by the FAC unless there was approval from the State specifying that the forest rights in the place had been “settled” and the Gram Sabha, or the governing body in villages in the area, had given their written consent to the diversion of the forest.
The new rules will dilute the Forest Right Act, of 2006.
It will disempower forest tribals and may displace them: The update will limit the necessity for consent from the gram Sabha. Many forestry experts say it may imply that the consent of the resident tribals and forest dwellers may not remain a deciding factor.
The purpose of updating the rules is to “streamline the approval process.”
Fulfilling and complying with the FRA, 2006 was an independent process and it will not dilute or infringe on the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
It could be undertaken by States “at any stage” of the forest clearance process and it also talks about the compliance with provisions of the FRA before States order diversion of the land.