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Amended Forest (Conservation) Act imperils the Northeast

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Environment Conservation

 

Source: TH

 Context: This article discusses the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023, which allows forest land diversion for certain projects near India’s borders.

 

More about the article:

  • The article highlights opposition from states in India’s Northeast due to concerns about its impact on tribal and customary laws.
  • Recently, the Mizoram Assembly has passed a resolution opposing the 2023 Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, citing ongoing forest conservation and tribal rights challenges in Northeast India.
  • Tripura have passed similar resolutions opposing the amendment
  • Nagaland faces similar demands
  • Sikkim also opposes the 100 km exemption clause.

 

Key provisions of Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023:

AspectDetails
About Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 allows for the diversion of forest land for various projects, including roads, railways, and strategic national security projects, within 100 km of India’s international borders. It amends the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
ObjectiveTo clarify and enhance the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
ScopeApplicability to land designated as forest since 1980
Exemptions·        Land within 100 km of borders for national security

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

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

Assignment of Forest LandPrior approval is required from the central government for all entities
Permitted ActivitiesExpanded to include check posts, fencing, bridges, zoos and safaris under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972; eco-tourism facilities; and silvicultural operations (enhancing forest growth), etc.

 

Concerns raised by Northeast states against the amendment:

Concerns RaisedAmendment’s Impact on Northeast India
Forest land diversion near bordersThe amendment allows forest land diversion within 100 km of India’s borders without forest clearance, affecting the environment and tribal rights in Northeast India.
Forests not officially classifiedAreas not officially classified as forests in government records, even if they are standing forests, won’t be protected from commercial exploitation or diversion.
  
Significant unclassed forest areasA substantial portion of North-eastern forests is privately owned, including unclassed forests, which may not be covered by the Act unless included in government records.

 

Central Government’s argument:

The predominant idea of the proposed changes:

  • To build forest carbon stockby raising plantations.
  • To make land available for developers to meet their legal obligation towards compensatory afforestationin lieu of forest land diverted for development projects.
  • Freeing up land that is currently locked up as unrecorded forests.

 

Mechanisms for Forest Protection in North East India:

MechanismsDetails
Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA) 2006·        Recognizes various types of forest land, including unclassified forests, providing protection to tribal communities

·        Aligned with the 1996 Supreme Court redefinition of “forest land.”

Article 371A and 371G·        Special Constitutional protections in Article 371A (Nagaland) and 371G (Mizoram) safeguard tribal customary law, land ownership, and transfer rights.

·        Mizoram, being a State, falls under FCA’s purview, affecting over 84% of its forest areas.

Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006·        Recognizes traditional forest rights, including unclassed forests, offering additional protection to tribal communities

·        However, most North-eastern states, except Assam and Tripura, have not implemented FRA due to land ownership patterns and a lack of forest-dependent communities.

 

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 bamboo grown in 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