[Answered] How do the new amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, of 1980 address the industrial development and forest conservation in India?

Introduction: Give a brief introduction about Forest Act 1980.

Body: State the new amendments proposed and their effect on industrial development and forest conservation.

Conclusion: Way forward.

Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 was enacted for providing a higher level of protection to forests and to regulate the diversion of forest lands for non-forestry purposes. Recently, the government introduced The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 to make changes to The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

How do proposed amendments address industrial development and forest conservation in India? 

  • Unrecorded forests: The proposed amendments seek to restrict the scope of the Act to only “recorded forest”. This will have the effect of removing the protection of the Act from millions of hectares of land that have the characteristics of forests but are not notified as such.
  • Develop Carbon stock through plantations: The new amendments allow developers to raise plantations on land which is not classified as forest. These plantations can be used to incentivize private agro-forestry, and tree plantation activities and streamline the forest clearance process.
  • Diversion of forest land: The proposed amendments seek to make “unrecorded” land available for developers to meet their legal obligation towards compensatory afforestation in place of forest land diverted for development projects.
  • Excess power to Central Government: The changed bill authorises the central government to list activities exempted from forest clearance. Eg, all strategic linear projects of “national importance and concerning national security” within 100 km of international borders. The amendments also seek to exempt “security-related infrastructure” requiring up to 10 hectares, without defining its scope. The Bill adds silvicultural operations, construction of zoos and wildlife safaris, eco-tourism facilities, and any other activities which “the Central Government may, by order, specify to be exempted from the provisions of Forest Conservation Act.
  • Increased carbon stock: As compared to stable natural forests, fast-growing plantations score faster carbon growth which will help raise the carbon stock. From various forest surveys, it is learnt that growth in natural forest in India is slow or stagnant and it is tree cover in orchards, plantations and village homesteads that has been responsible for increasing India’s carbon sink.

Conclusion:

Environment activists have raised concerns regarding the diversion of forest land which will lead to corporate ownership and the disappearance of large tracts of forests. The government should ensure to engage all stakeholders whether tribals, activists, industry leaders and most importantly state government to come up with suggestions to address the concerns raised by the proposed bill to harmonise the issue of industrial development with forest conservation in India.

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