Recently, the Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, easing diversion of forests and exempting certain categories of development from the need to take clearance from the Ministry.
What is the proposal
- Defining ‘Forests’: Forest land will continue to be defined as deemed forests listed by state governments prior to 1996.
- Forests that grew up on land bought by the Railways and Road Ministries prior to 1980 will no longer be considered forests.
- Oil and Natural Gas Extraction: Allow innovative technologies like Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) to be used to extract oil and natural gas from deep beneath forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest. Because the usage of such technology is quite environmentally favourable, it should be maintained out of the scope of the Act.
- Building in Forests: To alleviate the grievances of those whose land is covered by a state-specific private forest act or falls under the dictionary definition of forest. As a one-time waiver, the proposal permits them to erect structures for genuinely fide objectives, such as forest conservation measures and residential units of up to 250 square metres.
- Strategic Initiatives: Forest land should be exempted from the necessity for prior approval from the central government for strategic and security projects of national importance.
- States will be able to divert forest area for strategic and security projects that must be finished within a certain time frame if this is done.
Why the proposed changes?
- Forests on Private Land: To some extent, identifying forests on private land is subjective and arbitrary. This causes a great deal of animosity and opposition, especially among private individuals and organisations.
- Consideration of any private area as forest would limit an individual’s ability to use his or her own land for non-forestry purposes. This has led to a trend of keeping most private lands bare of vegetation, even if planting operations are possible.
- Changes in Ecological and Economic Needs: In recent years, the country’s ecological, social, and environmental regimes have undergone significant change. It has become necessary to update the Act in light of current conditions, notably in order to speed the integration of conservation and development. To meet India’s climate goal, large plantations on all accessible land outside of government forests were required.
- For making forest laws more stringent for notified forests, making offences non-bailable with increased penalties including imprisonment of up to one year.
- For disallowing any kind of diversion in certain forests.
- To define and identify forests once and for all — something that has been often ambiguous.
What are the concerns?
- Activists say the relaxation of forest rules will facilitate corporate ownership and the disappearance of large tracts of forests.
- About the exemption of forests on private land, many forests will disappear. For instance, 4% land in Uttarakhand falls under private forests.
- Tribals and forest dwelling communities — an issue the amendments do not address.
- Exemption for Roads and Railways on forest land acquired prior to 1980 will be detrimental to forests as well as wildlife – especially elephants, tigers and leopards.
- One time exemption for private residences on private forest will lead to fragmentation of forests, and open areas such as the Aravalli mountains to real estate.
Active participation of stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations, as well as stakeholder awareness and capacity building, along with enabling policy interventions and money, can go a long way toward achieving India’s restoration goals. The time has come for an all-encompassing approach that addresses these issues while also providing the necessary resources.
How to structure:
- Give a brief intro on Forest Conservation in India and Forest Conservation Act
- Mention the proposed changes to the Forest Conservation Act,1980
- Explain why the proposed move was made
- Now Say how this changes can affect adversely
- Suggest way forward and conclude