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What are deemed forests, and why Karnataka wants to declassify some?

Topics Covered: Conservation related issues.

What are deemed forests, and why Karnataka wants to declassify some?


Context:

Karnataka government is planning to declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of the 9.94 lakh hectares of deemed forests in the state (nearly 67%) and hand it over to Revenue authorities.

Background:

The issue of deemed forests is a contentious one in Karnataka, with legislators across party lines often alleging that large amounts of agriculture and non-forest land are “unscientifically” classified as such.

 What are deemed forests?

An expert committee constituted by the Karnataka government after the Supreme Court order (in T N Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996) Case) identified ‘deemed forests’ as “land having the characteristic of forests irrespective of the ownership’”. This includes:

  1. Thickly wooded areas of the Revenue Department not handed over to the Forest Department.
  2. Thickly wooded areas recommended to be handed over to the Forest Department.
  3. Thickly wooded land distributed to grantees but not cultivated.
  4. Thickly wooded plantations of the Forest Department.

But, What are Forests?

The Supreme Court in the case of T N Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996) accepted a wide definition of forests under the Act.

It said, the word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning.

  • It covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2 (1) of the Forest Conservation Act.
  • It also includes any areas recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of the ownership.

After this announcement, what now for Karnataka?

Preservation of forest areas in India under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been continuously monitored by the Supreme Court since the Godavarman case judgment in 1996.

  • Karnataka state government must now obtain clearances from the Supreme Court for affecting changes to land classified as deemed forests since the verdict.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Definition of Forests.
  2. What are deemed forests?
  3. How are they classified?

Sources: Indian Express.