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Deemed forests

Facts for Prelims (FFP)

 

Source: TH

 Context: The Odisha government has issued a letter to district officials stating that requests from industries to convert forest land for non-forestry purposes must now adhere to the amended Forest Act, and the category of ‘deemed forests’ will no longer exist.

  • ‘Deemed forest’ refers to forest land that meets the dictionary definition of a forest but hasn’t been officially designated as such.
  • However, this change in interpretation by the Odisha government is raising concerns about accelerated deforestation.
  • Nearly half of Odisha’s forest land was categorized as ‘deemed forest’. The amended Forest Act focuses on the official notification of forest areas in government and revenue records after 1980, leaving out the concept of ‘deemed forest’.
  • Protection under the Act prevents land diversion without the consent of the central government and local gram panchayats, while also requiring the planting of trees on twice the cleared area and imposing penalties to deter deforestation.
  • The Ministry of Environment brought these amendments to the Forest Act to clarify its application, and it claimed that the changes align with the 1996 Supreme Court judgment on the matter.

However, concerns are being raised that this could lead to unchecked forest diversion and negatively impact forest rights and conservation efforts.

 

Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980:

  • It was enacted to consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
  • Approval for diversion of the land: Under the act, prior approval of the Central Government is required for diversion of forestlands for non-forest purposes.
  • Four categories of forests: The Act deals with the forests, namely reserved forests, village forests, protected forests and private forests.
Reserved forestA state may declare forestlands or wastelands as reserved forests and may sell the produce from these forests.

Any unauthorized felling of trees quarrying, grazing and hunting in reserved forests is punishable with a fine or imprisonment, or both

Village forestsReserved forests assigned to a village community are called village forests.
Protected forestsThe state governments are empowered to designate protected forests and may prohibit the felling of trees, quarrying and the removal of forest produce from these forests.

The preservation of protected forests is enforced through rules, licenses and criminal prosecutions