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Environment Ministry seeks suggestions on amending Forest (Conservation) Act; gives 15 days for reply

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According to the Forest Act, prior approval of the Centre was made necessary "for de-reservation of reserved forests and for use of forest land for non-forest purposes". The Environment Ministry has now invited suggestions from citizens on proposed amendments to the act.

Environment Ministry seeks suggestions on amending Forest (Conservation) Act; gives 15 days for reply

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has invited suggestions from citizens on proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. People can send their comments/suggestions via email by October 17.

What's the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980?

In an effort to check deforestation, then-President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy had promulgated the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance on October 25, 1980. According to the Act, prior approval of the Centre was made necessary "for de-reservation of reserved forests and for use of forest land for non-forest purposes".

For a decade-and-a-half, this law remained applicable to the forests notified under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or any other local law, and to forests that were under the management control of the Forest Department.

However, in 1996, the Supreme Court made the law applicable to

  • All areas that are recorded as ‘forest’ in any government record irrespective of ownership, recognition, and classification. This included areas notified as forest under any law.
  • All areas, other than those covered under sub-para (a) above and conform to the ‘dictionary’ meaning of ‘forest’.
  • All areas that are identified as ‘forest’ by the expert committee constituted in pursuance of the 12.12.1996 order of the Supreme Court and affidavit and have been filed in the Supreme Court in 1997 accordingly.


  • What's the proposed amendment and why?

    The Centre wants to do away with the provision mandating its approval for the de-reservation of reserved forests and for use of forest land for non-forest purposes.

    The government has enlisted 14 reasons behind the proposed move.

    1. The law, at present, covers all Government Forest lands (whether notified or not) and lands bearing vegetation irrespective of ownership and classification. This, according to the Centre, leads to ambiguity and results in resistance from private individuals and organisations during land acquisition.
    2. The Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways have advocated an amendment to the law. The ministries argue they had claimed land to construct/establish rail lines and roads long before 1980. They added while a part of this claimed land was already acquired before 1980, the acquisition of the remaining part of the claimed land has become out of their reach due to the Forest (Conservation) Act.
    3. As India is a tropical country, wild growth of vegetation on unused land is a common occurrence. However, the law, in its current form, prohibits the government from acquiring any land where vegetation comes up over a period of time.
    4. The Centre believes contrasting entries of the same land in revenue and forest records leads to misinterpretation and litigation. "Revenue records have to statutorily reflect the occupier and the nature of land including forest. It is strongly felt that this recording in revenue record of the plantation, afforestation etc. on any non-forest land after 12.12.1996 remain outside the purview of the Act to encourage forestry activities," the government points out in its statement.
    5. Strip plantations have been developed on land alongside many roads and railway lines. These land spaces are notified as forests. Now, many amenities/habitations — (both private and government — have also been developed all along such lands but to provide access (approach roads/rail) to these facilities, prior approval of the Centre is required as the activity is a non-forestry use of forest land.
    6. The provisions of the existing Act are regulatory and not prohibitory. The Centre, however, feels there should be provisions in the Act for prohibiting non-forestry use of certain areas that require a higher degree of protection due to their uniqueness and high landscape integrated value.
    7. Obtaining approval for non-forestry use of forest land, many times, delays strategic and security projects of national importance at critical locations along international borders.
    8. The Centre opines that Sub-Section 2(ii), concerning the assignment of mining lease, and Sub-Section 2(iii), concerning the use of forest land for non-forestry purposes, lead to ambiguity. "It is also not clear whether such permission under Sub-Section 2(iii) will be construed as ‘forest clearance’ or not," the notification points out.
    9. The government also seeks exemption for the use of new technologies like Extended Reach Drilling on forest land. "Ministry considers the use of such technology is quite environment-friendly and as such should be kept outside the purview of Act," states the public consultation letter.
    10. The owners of forest land should be given a one-time exemption for the construction of structures for bonafide purposes, according to the government.
    11. The establishment of zoos, safaris, and forest training infrastructures should not be considered non-forestry activities, states the letter.
    12. While the government agrees to the clause that mandates the imposition of compensatory levies for non-forestry purposes of the forest land, it feels that double imposition of any levy, such as at the time of renewal of the lease, isn't rational.
    13. The Centre wants to make the punishment for violation of the law more stringent as there have been instances of violation of the provision of the Act.
    14. According to the government, in cases where forest land is used for a non-forestry purpose for a very short period of time, the Centre's approval should not be mandatory as it takes a lot of time.


    15. Backlash to the Centre's move

      The critics say that amendment to the Act would result in more deforestation and more use of forest land for non-forestry activities.

      Some people have also pointed out the government has given only 15 days to send feedback as against 30 days mandated under the country's pre-legislative consultation policy.



       
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