Govt proposes changes to Forest Conservation Act 

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What is the news? 

The Centre has proposed an amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, to liberalize forest laws.

The ministry sent all states a copy of the proposed amendments on October 2, seeking their objections and suggestions within 15 days. Sources said a draft proposal will be drawn and placed before Parliament once these suggestions have been taken into consideration.

What amendments have been proposed?  

Deemed forests listed by state governments up to 1996 will continue to be considered forest land. Land that was acquired by the Railways and the road ministries before 1980, but on which forests came up, will no longer be considered forests. As of today, a landholding agency (Rail, NHAI, PWD, etc.) is required to take approval under the Act and pay stipulated compensatory levies such as Net Present Value (NPV), Compensatory Afforestation (CA), etc. for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes.  

Environment Ministry also proposes adding a clause to make offences under the modified Act punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year and make it cognisable and non-bailable. They also propose provisions for penal compensation to make good for the damage already done.  

Maintaining forest in its original condition where no non-forestry activity will be allowed under any circumstances. 

What is the definition of forest land?

The Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) was promulgated in 1980. Before the 1996 Supreme Court judgement in TN Godavarman Thirumulpad versus Union of India and Others, forest land was only that as was defined by the 1927 Forest Act.

But the court included all areas which are recorded as ‘forest’ in any government record, irrespective of ownership, recognition and classification.

What is the rationale behind introduction of draft amendment?

SC’s judgement creates frequent problems as considering any private area as forest restricts the right of an individual to use his/her own land for any non-forestry activity. This is particularly problematic in the case of railways and roads. There is land that these ministries own, but they cannot use it without permission from the MoEFCC. And these permissions can take anywhere between 2-4 years, thus causing delays. Moreover, even plantations carried out along roads fall under the category of deemed forests, thus cutting off access to road amenities like petrol pumps. Hence, the amendment seeks to remove this provision.

Also, the amendment would reduce the flow from foreign exchange for import of wood and wood derivatives to the tune of approximately Rs 45,000 crore by encouraging plantations and afforestation.

Source: This post is based on the article “Govt proposes changes to Forest Conservation Act” published in The Indian Express on 6th October 2021. 

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