Troublesome Aspects in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill

Troublesome Aspects in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill
Posted on 29-07-2023

Troublesome Aspects in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, recently passed by the Lok Sabha, has elicited mixed reactions due to its potential impact on India's forests and ecosystems. It seeks to amend the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which was designed to safeguard the nation's forest resources. The Bill introduces several changes, including a revised preamble emphasizing India's commitment to preserve forests and tackle climate change challenges. Additionally, the name of the Act is proposed to be changed to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam (Forest Conservation and Augmentation). While the Bill retains some positive aspects, it also raises concerns that require careful evaluation.

Issues with the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill:

  1. Narrow Definition of Forests: The Bill narrows the scope of lands covered by the Act, limiting it to areas officially notified as 'forest' in government records from 1980 onwards. This exclusion could have significant consequences as it potentially affects around 28% of India's forest cover, including ecologically vital areas like Unclassed Forests in Nagaland.

  2. Exclusion of Fragile Ecosystems: The Bill grants exemptions for security-related infrastructure up to 100 km from international borders, leaving out some of India's most delicate ecosystems, such as the forests of northeastern India and high-altitude Himalayan forests and meadows. These regions are recognized as biodiversity hotspots.

  3. Unrestricted Power to the Union Government: The Bill confers unrestricted powers to the Union government to specify 'any desired use' of forest areas beyond the Act's original or amended provisions. This provision raises concerns about potential exploitation without adequate environmental scrutiny.

  4. Impact on Forest Communities: The Bill overlooks relevant forest laws, such as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. The ease of forest area diversion and exclusion of forest people's institutions could potentially disenfranchise them.

  5. Exemptions for Construction Projects: The Bill introduces exemptions for construction projects, such as zoos, safari parks, and eco-tourism facilities. These artificially created green areas differ significantly from natural ecosystems that provide essential services for human well-being.

Way Forward:

  1. Empowering Forest Communities: Learning from Nepal's success in increasing forest cover by involving local community forest user groups, India should aim to increase participation and empower forest-dwelling communities in forest conservation efforts.

  2. Striking a Balanced Approach: While streamlining administrative procedures for strategic and security-related projects is essential, blanket exemptions from regulatory laws may not be the ideal solution. A balanced approach that addresses existing flaws while preserving environmental safeguards is crucial.

India's natural ecosystems, particularly its forests, play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance and addressing climate change. As the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill is evaluated further, it is essential to strike a balance between development needs and environmental protection. Preserving existing checks and balances and fostering community participation will be pivotal in securing the long-term health and sustainability of India's forests and natural resources.

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