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Forest Conservation (amendment) Bill 2023

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Environment, Conservation

 

Source: IE

 Context: The government introduced The Forest (Conservation), Amendment Bill, 2023 in Lok Sabha to make changes to The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

 

Background:

  • Following independence, vast swathes of forest land were designated as reserved and protected forests and brought under state forest departments.
  • Many forested areas were left out and areas without any standing forests were included in ‘forest’ lands.
    • According to the State of Forests Report (SFR 2021), nearly 28%/197,159 sq km (of India’s recorded forest cover – 713,789 sq km) is not recorded as ‘forest’.
  • The anomalies were supposed to be sorted out through extensive ground surveys but the process remained incomplete.
  • In 1996, the SC suspended the felling of trees across the country and ruled that the FC Act would apply to all land parcels that were either recorded/resembled forest.
  • This sweeping order helped check rampant deforestation but prevented the exclusion of vast areas already used for agriculture/homesteads.
  • The 2023 Bill seeks to limit the applicability of the FC Act only to land recorded as ‘forest’.

 

Key features:

 ActBill
Restrictions on activities in the forest●      Restricts the de-reservation of forest or use of forest land for non-forest purposes

●      Specifies certain activities (conservation, management and development of forest and wildlife) that will be excluded from non-forest purposes

Adds more activities to this list such as:

(i) zoos and safaris under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972,

(ii) eco-tourism facilities,

(iii) silvicultural operations (enhancing forest growth), etc.

Land under the purviewThe Bill provides that two types of land will be under the purview of the Act:

●       Land declared/notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or under any other law, or

●       Land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after October 25, 1980 in a government record.

Exempted categories of landThe Bill exempts certain types of land from the provisions of the Act such as

●      Forest land along a rail line or a public road maintained by the government

●      Land situated within 100 km along the international borders

●      Land up to 10 hectares, proposed to be used for constructing security-related infrastructure, etc.

Assigning of land through a lease or otherwiseThe state government or any authority requires prior approval of the central government to direct the assigning of forest land through a lease or otherwise to any organisation not owned by the government.The Bill provides that such assigning may be done to any organisation subject to terms and conditions prescribed by the central government.
Power to issue directionsThe Bill adds that the central government may issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any other authority/organisation under or recognised by the centre, state or UT.

 

The predominant idea of the proposed changes:

  • To build forest carbon stock by raising plantations.
  • To make land available for developers to meet their legal obligation towards compensatory afforestation in lieu of forest land diverted for development projects.
  • To achieve both these objectives by
    • Restricting the applicability of the FC Act, and
    • Freeing up land that is currently locked up as unrecorded forests.

 

Concerns:

  • If the scope of the FC Act is restricted, fewer projects will be required to obtain forest clearance affecting compensatory afforestation.
    • Conservationists see this as a double whammy → losing unrecorded forests to plantations → diverting recorded forests for projects.
  • The proposed exemptions leave a lot to the Centre to decide retrospectively.
  • Though the Bill keeps up with dynamic changes in the ecology, strategic and economic aspirations, and improvement in the livelihoods of tribals/forest dwellers, it boils down to pushing plantations to achieve carbon neutrality.

 

Conclusion: Forests are a lot more than a sum of trees. Unlike man-made plantations, natural forests perform a range of ecosystem services that are key to the survival and well-being of millions of species.

 

Insta Links:

Forest Conservation Rules

  

Prelims Links: (UPSC 2019)

Consider the following statements:

  1. As per the recent amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, forest dwellers have the right to fell the bamboos grown on forest areas
  2. As per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, bamboo is a minor forest produce
  3. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Forest Rights) Act, 2006 allows ownership of minor forest produce to forest dwellers

 

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

 

Ans: 2