Key Provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023
The Bill renames the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam or Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act.
The new name reflects a new focus on afforestation and reforestation activities.
Restrictions on Activities in the Forest
FCA, 1980 specifies activities that will be excluded from restriction on dereservation.
These activities include conservation, forest development, wildlife-related works, etc.
GoI may exclude any survey (exploration, seismic survey) from restrictions on dereservation.
The 2023 Bill adds more activities to the restriction on dereservation list, such as:
zoos and safaris under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 owned by the government or any authority, in forest areas other than protected areas,
silvicultural operations(enhancing forest growth), and
any other purpose specified by the central government.
Land under the Purview of FCA
The 2023 Bill provides that two types of land will be under the purview of the FCA:
Land notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927or under any other law, or
Land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after 25thOctober 1980 in a government record.
25th October 1980: The day when Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into effect.
Limits Scope of the FCA
SC in T.N.Godavarman vs. Union of India held that the provisions of theFCA will apply beyond ‘notified forests’ to all areas ‘recorded’ as forest in any government record.
But the 2023 Bill proposes that theFCA will apply ONLY to those landswhich are recorded as forest on or after 25th October 1980, thus restricting the scope of the Godavarman judgement.
This is a significant exclusion because it will potentially exclude 28% of India’s forests outside Recorded Forest Areas from the purview of the FCA.
The lands excluded from the purview of FCA will beeasily diverted for commercial use.
Land Exempted from the Purview of FCA
The 2023 Bill exempts certain types of land from the provisions of the FCA. They include:
Forest land along a rail line or a public road maintained by the government providing access to a habitation, or to a rail, and roadside amenity up to 0.10 hectares.
Forest land situated within 100 km along the international borders proposed to be used for construction of strategic projects of national importance or security.
Forest landup to 10 ha, proposed to be used for construction of security-related infrastructure.
Forest land proposed for construction of defence and paramilitary projects, or public utility projects as specified by the GoI (not exceeding 5 hectares in left-wing extremism affected area).
Land changed from forest use to non-forest use on or before 12th December 1996 by any authority authorised by a state/UT.
Endangers Ecologically Sensitive Bio-geographic Regions and Biodiversity Hotspots
This exemption provision of the Bill is problematic as forests in the Himalayan, Trans-Himalayan and North Eastern regions, which are rich with endemic biodiversity will be exempted.
Clearing of these forests without any assessment and mitigation plan will lead to biodiversity loss and increase the vulnerability of the ecologically and geologically sensitive areas.
Incentiving Private Agro-Forestry and Tree Plantation Activities
It allowed private plantationsorreforested land to be retrospectively earmarked as forest.
This provision disincentivised the private parties.
2023 Bill incentivises the private parties by allowing the divertion of private forests for commercial or other uses,without the need for acquiring forest clearance.
Criticism: Incentivise Afforestation for Commercial Ends
The Bill allows the diversion of private forests for afforestation activities. This may not help create a permanent carbon stock as they can simply be used as carbon credits.
Carbon Credits (or carbon offsets): They are permits that allow the owner to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.
They are awarded to organisations based on quantities of greenhouse gases that they kept out of the air or removed from it.
The carbon credit owner can sell it to organisations that have exceeded their limit.
Assigning of Land through a Lease or Otherwise
State government or any authority requires prior approval of the GoI for assigning forest land to any organisation (private person, authority, corporation) not owned by the government.
The 2023 Bill provides that state government or any authority do this assigning to any organisationsubject to terms and conditions prescribed by the GoI.
Power to Issue Directions
The 2023 Bill adds that the GoI may issue directions for implementing the FCA to any other authority/organisation under or recognised by the centre, state, or UT.
Other Criticisms of the 2023 Bill
Diluted the Power of FCA
The 203 Bill used terms like ‘proposed’, ‘ecotourism facilities’, and ‘any other purposes’ which are too vague and can be exploited or misused for commercial purposes.
Though the 2023 Bill proposes to ease the land transfer for compensatory afforestation, it will not serve the ecological purpose until fundamental changes are made.
Generally, monoculture is practiced in compensatory afforestation, which leads to biodiversity loss.
Violation of Constitutional Rights
The provision of exemptions without the consultation of local individuals violates the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA 2006),the Panchayat Act, and constitutional provisions for the STs.
The requirement of consent for diverting forest lands gives legal recognition to the rights of the forest dwellers, which is recognised by FRA 2006.
Constitutional Provisions for Conservation of Forests
Article 21(Right to Life)
According to Article 21, “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Thus, it guarantees the fundamental right to life. The right to a healthy environment, free of the danger of diseases and infection etc., is inherent in it.
Right to a healthy environment as part of Article 21 was first recognised in the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State case (popularly known as theDehradun Quarrying Case).
Directive Principles of State Policy
Article 48A (Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife)
The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.
To protect and improve forests and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures.
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