Governments prioritise revenue at cost of environment: Activists

The focus of the protests was the impact of the FCA Bill on unnotified forest lands.
Climate activists protest against the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 in Hyderabad
Climate activists protest against the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 in Hyderabad

HYDERABAD: In the wake of the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s approval of the controversial Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023, concerned citizens, forest and climate action groups across India have staged peaceful demonstrations across India, including in Hyderabad, in the past few days.

The Lok Sabha, on Wednesday, passed the Bill, paving way for the amendment of certain provisions under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, to extend and exempt specific types of land from the Act’s applicability.

During one such protest in Hyderabad, 18-year-old climate activist Ruchith Asha Kamal, deputy director of Climate Front India, said, “Be it the Aravallis, the mangroves all along our coast, Western and Eastern Ghats, biodiversity hotspots of the north-east, our rich central Indian forests – a great part of these could no longer be considered ‘forest’ and can potentially be sold, diverted, cleared, exploited without any regulatory oversight, if the new amendment bill is passed. As a young Indian, I want to know if the government has a plan for the millions of Indians who are already reeling under extreme climate events across the country and anxious about our future.”

The focus of the protests was the impact of the FCA Bill on unnotified forest lands. While Telangana has a limited number of unclassed forest lands, the rise in temperatures demands conservation efforts to protect these vital carbon sinks, he said, adding that opening up India’s carbon sinks for development could lead to even more severe floods and extreme summers in the State.

Protesters criticised the Union and State governments for prioritising revenue generation through unhindered clearances for real estate at the expense of the environment. The lifting of GO 111 by the Telangana government was cited as an example of facilitating pollution in the Himayatsagar and Osmansagar reservoirs.  We demand proactive and conscious policy making rather than a greedy corrupted one, Ruchith said.

An ongoing email campaign has been launched, urging leaders of political parties and MPs to reconsider the Bill, they said, adding that a letter signed by over 400 researchers, ecologists and students expressing concerns about the bill has been sent to the Environment Minister.

To affect tribal communities

The amendments have raised serious concerns as they compromise the constitutional mandate of safeguarding forests (Article 48A) and the duty of citizens to protect and improve the natural environment (Article 51A (g)), protesters pointed out. The amendment Bill exempts large forest lands from the FCA’s purview to expedite strategic projects of national importance, said protesters. The activists highlighted that the proposed amendments could negatively impact STs and other traditional forest dwellers protected under the FRA

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