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Bill to amend Forest Conservation Act: provisions, Concerns
THE BILL to amend the Forest (Conservation) Act cleared the Lok Sabha test last week. The FC Act was legislated in 1980 to regulate the diversion of forests for construction and mining. After more than four decades, the government proposes to “broaden the horizons of the Act… to keep its provisions in tandem with the dynamic changes in the ecological, strategic and economic aspirations” of the country. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow
In December 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that the FC Act would apply to all land parcels that were either recorded as ‘forest’ or resembled the dictionary meaning of forest. Until then, the FC Act applied to areas notified as forests under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
This blanket order made the FC Act applicable to all land recorded as forest and to all standing forests irrespective of their land status, restraining “development or utility related work”, the Bill says. Further, notes the Bill’s statement of reasons, “apprehensions prevailed regarding applicability” of the FC Act in the plantations raised on private and non-forest land. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow
As a remedy, the Bill proposes that the Act will be applicable only on notified forest land and land identified as forest on government records, except such forests that were already put to other use prior to the 1996 SC order. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow
To the numerous objections received by the Joint Committee (JC) of Parliament on the Bill, the environment ministry responded by assuring that the amended Act would still apply to all unclassified forests, forests that were “proposed to be notified”, land recorded as forest by even local bodies recognized by a state government, and forest-like areas identified by the expert committees set up in pursuance of the 1996 SC order. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow
The ministry also assured that any error would be taken care of “in the guidelines” to be issued after the amendment.
This is a recurring pattern in the JC report: the ministry promises to provide specifics on various aspects of the Bill through guidelines later. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow
The Bill’s other primary goal is to satisfy the “need to fast track” projects of strategic importance, national security, and public utility within 100 km of international borders and in “Left Wing Extremism affected areas”.
While Himachal Pradesh wanted the Act to define ‘National importance and National Security’ and Chhattisgarh wanted it to “mention explicitly” the types of security related infrastructure and user agencies, the ministry said the Defence and Home ministries would identify the qualifying projects.
Mizoram was apprehensive “any activity coming under the definition of linear project by any agency can be taken up mentioning it as a project of national importance or national security as all work in one way or another are of national im- portance and any work in states having international borders can be termed by the working agencies as of national security.”
Sikkim was one of the smaller states to point out that exempting 100 km from the borders would “subsume the entire state and open up pristine forest areas”, and wanted the exemption limits reduced to 2 km. The ministry assured that the exemptions would not be for private projects.
On the other hand, BRO and Arunachal Pradesh, wanted the exemption range of 100 km to be increased to 150 km in order to re- duce the “infrastructure differential” with China. The ministry clarified it could not give blanket exemption. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow
Focus on plantations
The proposed Bill encourages plantations in private lands to enhance the carbon sink.
An essential condition for forest clearance is that a developer must carry out compensatory afforestation on equivalent non forest land or, if non-forest land is not available, on degraded forest land twice the extent of the forest area diverted. Since land is always at a premium, this works as a check on the demand for forest land. No1 Best NDA Coaching Lucknow