The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, is an important Central statute for the conservation of forests in the country. It provides that the de-reservation of reserved forests, use of forest land for non-forest purpose, assigning forest land by way of lease or otherwise to private entity and clearing of naturally grown trees for the purpose of reforestation requires prior permission of the Central Government.
1. The state governments are restricted from diverting forest land and required to seek prior approval from the centre for use of forest land for non-forest purposes, leasing a forest land to organizations and de-reservation of forest.
2. The ACT also specifies the activities that are permitted to be carried out on Forest land.
1. There is confusion over the kinds of forests that are covered under the ACT. In 1996, the Supreme Court had expanded the applicability of the ACT to include different categories of lands under its ambit too.
2. The government has felt a need to divert Forest lands for strategic projects and argued that there is a need to fast track security and strategic projects of national importance.
3. Allowing activities like ecotourism and setting up zoos would enhance economic exchange to a greater extent.
The bill clarifies the categories of forests that will be covered under the act and also the categories that will be Exempted, for instance the land that will be covered under the ACT include any land declared as a forest under the Indian Forest Act of 1927.
Categories of land that will be Exempted include
Any land situated within a distance of 100 kilometres along an international border proposed to be used for security infrastructure among others is exmpted.
While the ACT already allows Works related to the management and development of forest such as establishing check posts, fire lines fencing and wireless communication the bill adds more activities to this exemption list like silviculture activities, establishment of zoo and safaris owned by the government or any other authority and ecotourism facilities.
Propose – the forest Amendment Bill seeks to limit the conservation scope of the Act to only certain Forest lands. By doing this, the government effectively exempts Borderlands from seeking permissions to clear forests in order to construct strategic linear projects of national importance.
The Bill excludes 2 categories of land from the purview of the Act: land recorded as forest before October 25, 1980 but not notified as a forest, and land which changed from forest-use to non-forest-use before December 12, 1996. So, any forest land that was leased before this cut-off date but is now not under lease will not be included in the amendment Act. This excludes a significant area of forests from protection.
A blanket exemption for projects like zoos, eco-tourism facilities, and reconnaissance surveys may adversely affect forest land and wildlife.
Experts have raised concerns as terms like strategic linear projects of national importance is vague and undefined and can thus be misused to promote infrastructure projects that will impact the local ecology especially in the north-eastern states of India. To contradict this point, the govt. argued that it was necessary to provide access to important arterial highways and minor establishment along public roadways and railway lines.