Centre introduces amendment to forest conservation law; experts say move will destroy forests

The Bill emphasised on diversion of ‘deemed forest’ for non-forest use. The deemed forest is a kind of forest that is not notified as a forest, but in governments’ records, it is considered a forest.
Representational image  (Photo | EPS)
Representational image (Photo | EPS)

Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupendra Yadav introduced the forest conservation amendment bill in the Lok Sabha. The Bill intends to exempt lakhs of hectares of forest land from mandatory forest clearance laws. Environmentalists see the amendments as a dilution of strong forest laws, consequently degrading the existing forest.

The introduced Bill, The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, will amend the existing Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA). After the introduction, the Bill sent to the government recommended the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) instead of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. The JPC is expected to submit its report in the Monsoon session, 2023.

“This is the most environmentally destructive legislative shift in recent decades,” says Leo Saldana, President of Environment Support Group, Karnataka. “This proposed amendment will also affect the rights of the indigenous and forest-dwelling populations who are now protected under the Forest Rights Act,” he adds.

The Bill emphasised on diversion of ‘deemed forest’ for non-forest use. The deemed forest is a kind of forest that is not notified as a forest, but in several governments’ records, it is considered a forest.

“The Bill dilutes the provision which protects deemed forest under the Supreme Court judgement in TN Godavarman case where a large chunk of forest land recorded as a forest without formal notification,” says Debadityo Sinha, a forest law expert.

The Bill also proposed to exempt the requirement of Forest clearance of the forest within 100 km of the international border to build defence establishments and public utilities on forest land. It also proposed exempting forest land alongside railways, roads and notified forest land of up to 10 hectares for security infrastructure. It also exempts the establishment of zoo/safari and ecotourism facilities included in the management plan.

Experts strongly feel that the amendment deviates from the protectionist approach of the FCA.

“This promotes the commercialisation of Reserve Forests & irreversible disturbance to wildlife,” says Sinha.

Environmentalists also pointed out the renaming of the act from English to Sanskrit’ Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980’.

“This is a blatant attempt to impose Sanskrit on Indians, who are almost entirely not Sanskrit speaking,” says Saldana. 

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