NEW DELHI: Climate activist Disha Ravi on Saturday claimed the government was "diluting" environmental laws by proposing amendments to the Forest Conservation Act and that this "trend" started with the changes made to Environment Impact Assessment rules last year.
The 23-year-old activist, who was arrested in February in connection with a 'toolkit' on farmer protests, also said indigenous people, tribals and environmental defenders are hurt every single day for the very work that will protect everyone.
"People often say the open forest cover is increasing. However, if you look at that data closely, you'll see that the definition of 'open forest cover' is so vague that it can even include 30-40 trees planted close together in a park. This vagueness in definition allows data to be manipulated," Ravi said during a discussion at India Today Conclave.
"With the reforms proposed in the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980, the government is diluting India's environment laws. A lot of projects won't need the approvals they needed earlier. This trend was started with the changes made to the Environment Impact Assessment rules last year," she said.
On October 2, the Centre sent all states a copy of the proposed amendments to FCA, seeking their objections and suggestions within 15 days.
According to the proposal, land acquired by the railways and the road ministries before 1980, but on which forests came up, will no longer be considered forests.
The Centre also proposes to do away with the requirement of prior government approval for the development of border infrastructure on forest land, saying it causes delay in the implementation of critical projects.
Ravi said the fact that indigenous people, adivasis and environmental defenders are "hurt every single day for doing the very work which will protect all of us makes me concerned".
"One example is Hidme Markram, an adivasi woman who was arrested on Women's Day this year for protesting against coal mines which we all know is bad for us for several reasons," she said.
According to reports, Chhattisgarh police had arrested Markram, 30, from Dantewada district on charges of being a member of banned outfit CPI (Maoist).
Ravi said she got involved in environmental protection because her grandparents, who were farmers, had to suffer through a water crisis.
"My mother would actually carry water before going to school," she said.
"Environment activism is about humans because we are all part of it. It's the Earth defending itself," the activist said.