• Sat. Dec 2nd, 2023
Explained  Why the controversy in the forest bill?

The story so far: The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill is likely to be introduced in the annual session of Parliament scheduled to begin on July 20, 2023. The government approved the version sent by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), which examines amendments to the bill, without any comments, revisions or suggestions.

What is the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill?

The Bill seeks to amend the Forest Protection Act, 1980. It is legislation enacted to protect India’s forests and empowers the central government to regulate the extraction of forest resources – from timber and bamboo to coal and minerals – by industries and forests. Communities of residence. A separate law, the Forest Rights Act, protects the rights of tribals and forest dwellers who depend on forests for their livelihood. During 1951-1975, about four million hectares of forest land was diverted for various non-forest purposes. From 1980 to 2023, within the scope of the law, only one million hectares were diverted – a sign of its impact in slowing forest exploitation. However, such protection was available only to areas already marked as ‘forest’ in the records of the central and state governments. A Supreme Court judgment in 1996 Godavarman Thirumulpad case, extended the scope of such protection. Under this, even areas not formally notified as ‘forests’ but conforming to the ‘dictionary’ meaning of forests were protected. There is no universal definition of a ‘forest’ Thirumalpad The judgment directed states to define and demarcate forests using their own criteria. Not all states did, and over the years there has been considerable debate over the extent to which this ruling promotes forest conservation. India’s Forest Policy of 1988 proposes that one-third of the country’s geographical area should be under forest cover. Actually, only 21% is under such cover, which is about 24% if trees outside the areas outside recorded forests, orchards and plantations are also taken into account. According to the Ministry of Environment, amendments to the law were necessary to address this second issue.

What do these amendments say?

Major changes to the Act include the inclusion of a ‘Preamble’ underlining India’s commitment to protecting forests and their biodiversity and addressing challenges from climate change, and changing the name of the Act to Vanam (Samrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam (translated as Forest Protection and Enhancement). From the existing Forest (Conservation) Act. The amendments also state that the Act will apply only to lands which have been notified as ‘forest’ in a government document in 1980 or later. If the notified forest land is legally diverted for non-forest use between 1980 and 1996, the Forest Conservation Act does not apply.

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Forest land located at a distance of 100 km from international borders and used for strategic projects of national importance or land measuring 5-10 hectares for security and defense projects will be exempted from the provisions of the Act. These amendments were necessary in the view of the Ministry of Environment, as private parties wishing to develop plantations in degraded forests or restore patches of trees are not motivated to do so. A private plantation, or a reforested land not officially marked as forest – under the provisions of the Act – can be expropriated retroactively, forcing the developer of such a plantation to forfeit the rights associated with that patch. This was a ‘setback’ to India’s plans to develop a three billion tonne ‘carbon sink’ by 2030 in line with its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

On the other hand, states have been allotting forest areas for plantations to companies for mining activities – which is against the intent of the law. The Center’s view required the amendments to create new solutions beyond the original intent of the Act to protect forests from exploitation for industrial purposes and deforestation.

What are the objections to change?

The JPC consists of 31 members, of which 18 are from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Bills, usually referred to a standing committee or select committee of Parliament, are scrutinized by members who present their own independent assessment report of the views raised by multiple stakeholders. Although the final report is yet to be tabled, the draft version is being viewed The Hindu It indicates that the committee has not made a collective independent assessment. Incidentally, six members from opposition parties including Congress, Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam filed dissenting notes. The amendments are in the public domain from June 2022 and have invited thousands of comments from non-governmental organizations, think tanks and tribal communities. The main objections are that the concessions would harm the substantial forests of the Himalayan, Himalayan and North-Eastern regions. Such deforestation without an appropriate “assessment and mitigation plan” threatens the biodiversity of “vulnerable ecologically and geographically sensitive areas” and can trigger extreme weather events. Limiting the scope of the legislation to areas recorded as forests on or after October 25, 1980 would allow significant tracts of forest land and many biodiversity hotspots to be sold, diverted, cleared and exploited for non-forestry purposes. purposes. There is also dissent against the move to rename the bill as VAN (Samrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, on the grounds that the “Sanskrit (sic) terminology…is unacceptable”. Some objections have been raised from the experts invited to depose before the committee Godavarman The verdict and a few state governments have said that forest protection is under the domain of the Center and the states, which means it is on the concurrent list, and the amendments tilt the balance towards the Centre.

How did the ministry respond?

After the JPC tables its report in Parliament — expected to be at the start of the monsoon session — the bill is likely to be tabled. The Ministry of Environment submitted detailed explanations to the committee to address the raised concerns. It stressed that the new amendments do not weaken it Godavarman Ruling, provisions are in place to ensure that the land is not “misappropriated”. It underscores that the proposed concessions on international borders are not general concessions and will be limited to “strategic special linear projects” identified by the central government. These exemptions are not available to private entities.

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