DEHRADUN: After Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in its letter dated November 14, 2019 said that states should decide their own definition of forest and Centre has nothing to do with it, experts call the move ‘two edged sword’. Interestingly, the letter says that criteria regarding a ‘forest’ finalised by a state “need not be subject to approval of MoEF&CC”.
The ministry referring to Supreme Court directions in year 1996 in which it said to define forests stated that there cannot be any ‘uniform criteria’ applicable to all forest types and states and there has to be different criteria for different forests and states in the country.
“It is not that only Hon’ble Supreme Court has directed the states to identify their own forests, in fact the states, having well-established forest departments are in better position than MoEF & CC, to understand their own forests and needs, and should frame criteria for their own forests,” says the letter.
Environmentalist Shekhar Pathak said, “This direction if used in a constructive way can prove beneficial but there are more chances of its misuse. Now, state government and officials are free to decide what is a forest and what is not. There is also a possibility of opening the floodgates of industrial approvals on forest lands.”
However, there are people who look a speck of positivity as the rules will be relaxed.
AG Ansari, a conservationist, said, “The state having rights to decide will enable marking of forest area according to conservation needs of the state. It will help in bringing down alienation of people and minimising human-animal conflict.”
Tushar Dash, an expert on forest rights issues, said, “The MoEF decision has given a free hand to the forest dept of the states to identify their own forests including deemed forests thereby legitimising illegalities committed over the years in the forest settlement operations and reinforcing mechanisms which led to alienation of rights of forest dwellers and caused historical injustice.”