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Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

A Parliamentary committee, set up to examine proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, has endorsed the....

Why in News?

A Parliamentary committee, set up to examine proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, has endorsed the amendment Bill in its entirety.

Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

Motive behind the amendment :
  • The predominant idea of the proposed changes is to build forest carbon stock by raising plantations.
  • The Bill also seeks to make land available for developers to meet their legal obligation towards compensatory afforestation in lieu of forest land diverted for development projects.
  • The Bill adds and exempts certain types of land from the purview of the Act.  Further, it expands the list of activities permitted to be carried out on forest land.  
  • Issues:
    • With the amendments, all those forest lands which do not fall in the reserved area but are available in government records before 1980 will not come under the purview of the Act.
      • This diverts away from the Supreme Court’s 1996 verdict which had ensured every forest mentioned in government records gets legal protection against deforestation.
    • Critics argue that the terms like ‘proposed’, ‘ecotourism facilities’, and ‘any other purposes’ can be exploited or misused for activities damaging forests and ecosystems in forest lands.
      • They also argue that plantations are a significant threat to Indian forests as they replace the natural ecosystems, affect soil quality, and particularly threaten the native biodiversity.
Key features
  • Inclusion and Exclusion of Land: The Bill amends the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to make it applicable to land notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or in government records after the 1980 Act came into effect. Land converted to non-forest use before December 12, 1996, will not fall under the Act’s purview.
  • Exemptions: Certain types of land are exempted from the Act, including land within 100 km of India’s border required for national security projects, small roadside amenities, and public roads leading to habitation.
  • Assignment of Forest Land: The state government requires prior approval from the central government to assign forest land to any private or government entity. The Bill extends this requirement to all entities and allows assignment on terms and conditions specified by the central government.
  • Permitted Activities: The Bill expands the list of permitted activities in forests, including establishing check posts, fencing, bridges, running zoos, safaris, and eco-tourism facilities.
  • If the scope of the FC Act is restricted, fewer projects will be required to obtain forest clearance → affecting compensatory afforestation.
    • Conservationists see this as a double whammy → losing unrecorded forests to plantations → diverting recorded forests for projects.
  • The proposed exemptions leave a lot to the Centre to decide retrospectively.
  • Though the Bill keeps up with dynamic changes in the ecology, strategic and economic aspirations, and improvement in the livelihoods of tribals/forest dwellers, it boils down to pushing plantations to achieve carbon neutrality.
Positives from the Forest Amendment Bill:
  • Some of the proposed amendments specify where the Act does not apply.
  • Other amendments specifically encourage the practice of cultivating plantations on non-forest land that could, over time, increase tree cover, act as a carbon sink, and aid India’s ambition of being ‘net zero’ in terms of emissions by 2070.
  • The amendments would also remove the 1980 Act’s restrictions on creating infrastructure that would aid national security and create livelihood opportunities for those living on the periphery of forests.
Controversial parts of the Amendment
  • Dilution Concerns: Some critics argue that the amendments dilute the Supreme Court’s 1996 Godavarman case judgment, which extended protection to forests not officially classified as such.
  • Geographically Sensitive Areas: Projects within 100 km of international borders or the Line of Control would no longer require forest clearance, which raises concerns about the environment and security.
  • Deemed Forests and Tourism: Central protection for deemed forests and restrictions on activities like tourism could be compromised, affecting biodiversity conservation and forest integrity.
  • Impact on Forest Cover: Exempting land near border areas for national security projects may adversely affect forest cover and wildlife in northeastern states, which have high forest cover and are biodiversity hotspots.
  • Potential Adverse Effects: Blanket exemptions for projects like zoos, eco-tourism facilities, and reconnaissance surveys may have negative consequences for forest land and wildlife.

Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023,Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023,

Read Also : Important  Constitutional Amendment Part-1

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