The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023: A Step towards Sustainable Forestry
The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 has garnered great acknowledgement, which dates back to its roots, that coincides with the amendments proposed four decades ago in 1980.
The acts share a common goal: protecting forests from persistent exploitation while ensuring sustainability for future generations.
We implore citizens to rally in this great motive and participate in the transitioning legislation process by joining hands, raising awareness and bringing forth the representatives to be a member of this landmark initiative.
Table of Contents
- The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023: A Step towards Sustainable Forestry
- Key Highlights of Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023
- Critical issues regarding Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023
- What is the Story behind the T.N. Godavarman Case?
- The Controversial Change in the Title
- Final thoughts
Key Highlights of Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023
The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 came with salient features which talked about several highlights, which are as follows-
Land Purview Act:- To specify, Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 involves the exemption of the land from the legal purview of the Act. There are exemptions for forest lands within a radius of 100 kilometres of India's border, projects related to national security, and roadside amenities. And within these criteria, it includes-
- 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 Land:- The forest bill exempts categories of land, such as forest land near the public road (maintained by the government) or one along railway lines and roadside amenities with a size of 0.10 hectares. For instance, even forest lands are exempted, which is based on the following points, which are-
- The land is within 100 km from the line of control, international borders, or line of actual control in existing projects concerning national security and national importance.
- Land that is around 10 hectares, which is utilized for constructing any security-related infrastructure.
- An incorporated land adopted for building paramilitary forces, defence-related projects, or public utility projects as much as five hectares to support left-wing extremism as per the affected area.
Note:- These exemptions are based on guidelines issued by the Central Government.
Leasing of forest land:- Within this, the state government seeks required approvals from the central government to assign forest land to a private entity. The government would not own this and is wholly a private entity. Those that are owned and controlled by the government are also covered by this bill. With prior approval of the central government, you can operate.
- Restricted activities on the land- The government refused the non-forest activities carried out in the forest land. These restrictions can be lifted after approvals from the Central Government.
- Exemptions in the borders- Unquestionably, north-eastern comes across as the biodiversity hotspot accounting for Mizoram's 85% highest forest cover, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (79%), Meghalaya (76%), Manipur (74%), Nagaland (74%), and Tripura (74%). The forest cover of these states is usually declining due to developmental activities, such as shifting cultivation. Nevertheless, the diversion of forests to security-related projects has contributed to reducing the forest cover.
Other exemptions:- Bill even adds exemptions to other activities, which include- zoos, safaris as per Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, i.e. falling under the jurisdiction of the government or other authority in the forest areas, highlighting, activities such as silviculture operations, or the one as specified under central government.
In addition, the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 calls for a preamble that symbolizes India's rich tradition of maintaining forestry and biodiversity through forest land preservation.
Now, strategies in place might compensate for the loss it caused, but I would hazard a guess if the loss of biodiversity can ever be resurrected.
The required permissions and approvals from the central government do all the above-mentioned factors.
Critical issues regarding Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023
Amidst the moaning and groaning of the Amendment Bill of 2023, the forest lands that do not fall under reserved areas or are outside the government records before 1980 will not be considered under the purview of the Act. The Supreme Court's verdict is like a diversion by the government, which had promised forest to the people through legal protection against deforestation, as mentioned in the government records.
The opponents believed that specific terminology used, such as "any other purposes", proposed or ecotourism facilities, can conduct exploitation in the name of destructive activities contributing towards devastation in the forest lands. As a result, the primary threat is that of the plantations, which carry the capability to threaten biodiversity or ecosystems.
What is the Story behind the T.N. Godavarman Case?
To introduce T.N Godavarman Thirumulpad, also called the "Green man", who is an exemplar in the field of conservation who rose to the occasion and filed a petition with the Indian Supreme Court to put an end to the illegal timber activities that destroyed the forest area. Section 2 of the Forest conservation act debars the government or any other authority from conducting any non-forest activities without the prior approval of the central government. And after hearing the plea, the court ruled in Godavarman’s favour expressing his verdict on the sustainable use of the forest.
Sooner, concerning this case, it was realized that the provisions of the Act were not applied to revenue forests or the non-forestry activities prevailing within the former and could be lifted with the approval of the Central government. This ruling came out specifically for the one notified as forest lands. And just when the said judgment was revised again, the rules also became applicable to the recorded forest lands.
Nonetheless, the ambiguity regarding the applicability of the status of plantations remained unaddressed as per private and government non-forest lands. This very situation led to misinterpretation of the Act's provisions regarding the applicability of forest lands, plantations, etc. In a nutshell, it is advisable to educate yourself on the rules of relevance and non-applicability per various grounds.
The Controversial Change in the Title
And just when the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 was being passed, it had requested the change in the title of the act Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980. Despite not knowing the exact reason, it is prudent to investigate the fact that it has been changed from English to Hindi-
- The constitution of Article 343 (1) considers the official language as per the union in Hindi, written in Devanagari script.
- The Official Language Act of 1963 clearly states that Hindi in Devanagari Script shall be the Official Language of the Union in addition to the usage of English for all official purposes.
- The Official Language Act of 1963 mandatorily provides for Hindi Translation of the Central Act; the title of the Act should continue to be used in English.
With these acts in mind, the debates centred around these discussions, which allowed them to highlight the irony of how the bill focused primarily on the diversion of forests. If the law doesn't correspond to the provisions of the titled Act, changing the bill's title to Samvardhan would not change the amendment's intent.
As conscious citizens, surprisingly, we cannot stand idle and wait for the changes to occur. We ought to understand how these prevailing exemptions make room for the processes such as deforestation or encroachment, affecting our nature's bounty or diversity. The time to act is now, and we must not delay it. By being relentless in our pursuit, we can strive for change.
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