October 6, 2021 2:57:29 am
The Centre has proposed an amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, to liberalise forest laws. The amendment proposed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) also puts in place stringent norms for forest conservation by increasing penal provisions for offenses and maintaining “pristine forests” where no non-forestry activity will be allowed under any circumstances.
The ministry sent all states a copy of the proposed amendments on October 2, seeking their objections and suggestions within 15 days. Sources said a draft proposal will be drawn and placed before Parliament once these suggestions have been taken into consideration.
According to the proposal, deemed forests listed by state governments up to 1996 will continue to be considered forest land. Land that was acquired by the Railways and the road ministries before 1980, but on which forests came up, will no longer be considered forests.
The Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) was promulgated in 1980. Before the 1996 Supreme Court judgement in TN Godavarman Thirumulpad versus Union of India and Others, forest land was only that as was defined by the 1927 Forest Act. But the court included all areas which are recorded as ‘forest’ in any government record, irrespective of ownership, recognition and classification. However, the ministry’s concept note points out, “Identification of such land is subjective and arbitrary to some extent…Considering any private area as forest would restrict the right of an individual to use his/her own land for any non-forestry activity.”
“This is particularly problematic in the case of railways and roads. There is land that these ministries own but they cannot use it without permission from the MoEFCC. And these permissions can take anywhere between 2-4 years, thus causing delays,” said environment secretary RP Gupta. He said that even plantations carried out along roads fall under the category of deemed forests, thus “cutting off access to road amenities like petrol pumps…This makes the road useless. So, we removed this provision in the amendment.”
The proposal also says that the amendment would “reduce the flow from foreign exchange for import of wood and wood derivatives to the tune of approximately Rs 45,000 crore” by encouraging plantations and afforestation.
Environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta said, “The ministry has called for consultations at the proposal stage – which is rarely ever done… provision to change the regulatory nature of the Act to prohibitory by bringing in stringent penal provisions is also welcome…But the ministry facilitating the diversion of forest land.”
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