Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023

Context: Lok Sabha has passed the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill without any changes from the first version introduced on March 29. The contentious Bill was introduced to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

What is Forest conservation amendment bill 2023?

  • The Bill amends the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to make it applicable to certain types of land. These include land notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or in government records after 
  • the 1980 Act came into effect.  The Act will not be applicable for land converted to non-forest use before December 12, 1996.

Forest Conservation Act 1980 is a unique piece of legislation and regulatory mechanism that reflects the collective will of the nation to protect its rich forests, biodiversity and natural heritage and resources. The act permits only unavoidable use of forest land for various development purposes. It embodies the firm commitment of the Government and the Department to balance the conservation of forests with the sustainable developmental need of the society contributing to better environment, health and economy. This act is regulatory in nature and not prohibitory.

Key features of the bill:

  • Exemptions – It exempts certain types of land, for e.g. land within 100 km of India’s border needed for national security projects, small roadside amenities, and public roads leading to a habitation.
  • Approval from centre – The state government requires prior approval of the central
    government to assign any forest land to a private entity.  The Bill extends this to all entities, and allows the assignment to be made on terms and conditions specified by the central government.
  • Activities in forests – The Act specifies some activities that can be carried out in forests, such as establishing check posts, fencing, and bridges.  The Bill also allows running zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities.
  • Power to issue directions:  The Bill adds that the central government may issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any authority/organisation under or recognised by the centre, state, or union territory (UT).

Key Issues and Analysis:

  • The Bill excludes two 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.  This provision may go against a 1996 Supreme Court judgement on preventing deforestation.
  • Exempting land near border areas for national security projects may adversely impact the forest cover and wildlife in north-eastern states. 
  • A blanket exemption for projects like zoos may adversely affect forest land and wildlife. The Supreme Court (2023) has remarked that they do not appreciate the necessity of having a zoo inside tiger reserves or national parks.
  • Activities like silvicultural operations, safaris, and eco-tourism facilities may help in economic development, and may even contribute to national priorities such as energy security and industrial growth.  However, there may be a need to balance economic benefits of such activities with that of conserving forests.  It is not clear why the requirement of a case-by-case examination by the central government to determine such balance is being replaced by a blanket exemption.

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