Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill 2023
In March this year, the government introduced the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill 2023 in the Lok Sabha, proposing changes to the existing Forest Act 1980. The Bill has been referred to the Joint committee.
The Forest Act was enacted with objective of conservation of forests primarily by controlling deforestation and all matters related thereto. Since its enactment, the Act was amended in 1992 to amend the Act by allowing limited tree cutting with prior approval of the government for purposes such as laying transmission lines, commissioning hydroelectric projects and related activities including conducting surveys for the same. Thereafter the government has proposed amendments to the Bill in 2023.
A look at the highlights of the 2023 amendments proposed:
- Restriction on forest activities
– The amendment places restriction on de-reservation of forests i.e use of forest land for non-forest purposes. Such restrictions may be lifted only with prior approval of the Central government. Non forest purposes mean and include use of forest land for horticulture and any purpose other than re-afforestation (the process where new trees are planted at places where there were no trees previously)
– The Act states that certain activities will be removed from the category of “non forest” purpose such as works related to the conservation, management, and development of forest and wildlife such as establishing check posts, fire lines, fencing, and wireless communication. The latest amendments add more to this list – (i) zoos and safaris under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 owned by the government or any authority, in forest areas other than protected areas, (ii) eco-tourism facilities, (iii) silvicultural operations (enhancing forest growth), and (iv) any other purpose specified by the central government. Further, the central government may specify terms and conditions to exclude any survey (such as exploration activity, seismic survey) from being classified as non-forest purpose.
- Types of Land brought under the purview of the Act
The amendments propose to bring in two types of land under the purview of the Act:
(i) Land declared/notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or under any other law, or
(ii) Land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after 25th October 1980 in a government record.
(iii) Further, the Act will not apply to land changed from forest use to non-forest use on or before 12th December 1996 by any authority authorised by a State/Union Territory.
- Categories of Land exempted
The amendments propose exemption of 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 providing access to a habitation, or to a rail, and roadside amenity up to a maximum size of 0.10 hectare.
– Land situated within 100 km along the international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control, proposed to be used for construction of strategic linear project for national importance or security,
– Land up to 10 hectares, proposed to be used for constructing security related infrastructure, or
– Land proposed to be used for constructing defence related project, camp for paramilitary forces, or public utility projects as specified by central government (not exceeding five hectares in a left-wing extremism affected area). These exemptions will be subject to the terms and conditions specified by the central government by guidelines.
- Assigning of land through a lease or otherwise
The Forest Act contains provision that state government, or any authority shall take prior approval of the central government to direct the assigning of forest land through a lease or otherwise to any organisation (such as private person, agency, authority, corporation) not owned by the government.The Amendment Bill 2023 provides that such assigning may be done to any organisation (such as private person, agency, authority, corporation) subject to terms and conditions prescribed by central government.
- Central government vested with power to direct implementation
The Amendments further propose vesting power with the central government to issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any other Authority / Organization recognized by the Centre, State or UTs
Preservation for the future
The Act in 1980 was enacted primarily to recognize and designate vast areas of forest land with the objective of protecting them from being commercialized. However, there were discrepancies in identifying and ear marking such forest lands. In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered that all lands fell under the definition of “forest” would come under the purview of the Forest Act and no trees could be felled for any purpose. With the proposed amendments in 2023, the Act is sought to modified without being rigid while retaining core land areas with intention of tackling climate change and preserving the biodiversity.
For full text of the amendment Bill 2023: