Nature and environment lovers on Monday launched a Twitter campaign to voice their concerns against the Forest Protection (Amendment) Bill. During the campaign, several environmentalists and activists tweeted about the setbacks of the proposed amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act.
Dignitaries including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, the Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change and other political leaders have been tagged in tweets as part of the awareness campaign.
The main demand of the campaign was to withdraw the proposed amendment to protect and promote the conservation of Indian forests. Several hashtags were used during the campaign, including #ScrapForestConservationAmendmentBill2023 and #SaveIndianForests.
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which came into effect on October 25, 1980, was enacted to protect forests by regulating the reservation of forest and forest land for non-forest purposes. Under Sections 2 and 3 of the Act, reservation of forest land requires the prior approval of the Central Government on the advice of an Advisory Committee.
Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Approval of Forest Rights Act) 2006 relaxed forest clearance rules.
However, the proposed Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 seeks to grant concessions to forest land under the guise of facilitating social, economic and environmental needs. The concessions target forest lands adjacent to government-maintained rail lines or public roads, projects of national importance related to national security, construction of infrastructure related to security and defense, paramilitary camps and public utility projects. The amendment also includes provisions for allocating forest land for non-forest activities such as wireless communication, fencing, bridges, culverts, check dams, water holes, ditches, pipelines, zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities.
The proposed amendment has raised several concerns. First, it appears to be contrary to the original intent of the 1980 Act, which was enacted to prevent reservation of forest land, conversion of forest land for non-forest purposes and massive deforestation. Second, such deforestation activities violate the rights of forest-dwelling communities protected under the 2006 Act and thereby undermine existing protections. Thirdly, the proposed concessions to forest lands do not involve the consent or approval of the concerned authorities such as Gram Sabhas, Sub-Divisional Level Committees, District Level Committees and State Level Monitoring Committees.
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