The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023

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A parliamentary committee has approved the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 without any objections. The bill aims to amend the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and seeks to exempt specific forest lands from legal protection. It is expected to be presented during the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament. Let's delve into the key provisions of the bill and analyse its potential impact.

Applicability of the Act:

The proposed bill expands the applicability of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to certain types of land. This includes land that has been officially notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or recorded as forest in government records after the implementation of the 1980 Act. However, land that was converted for non-forest use before December 12, 1996, will not be subject to the Act.

Exemptions from the Act:

The bill also provides exemptions for specific types of land, excluding them from the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act. This includes land located within 100 km of India's border that is required for national security projects, small roadside amenities, and public roads leading to human settlements.

Assignment of Forest Land:

Currently, the assignment of forest land to private entities requires prior approval from the central government. The proposed bill extends this requirement to all entities and allows the assignment to be made on terms specified by the central government.

Permissible Activities:

While the existing Act specifies certain activities that can be carried out in forests, such as establishing check posts, fencing, and bridges, the amendment bill introduces additional activities. It allows for the operation of zoos, safaris, and eco-tourism facilities within forest areas.

Key Issues and Analysis:

Exclusion of Forest Land:

One of the key concerns raised regarding the bill is the exclusion of two categories of land from the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act. This potentially contradicts a 1996 Supreme Court judgment aimed at preventing deforestation. The excluded categories include land recorded as forest before October 25, 1980, but not officially notified as a forest, and land converted from forest-use to non-forest-use before December 12, 1996.

Impact on North-Eastern States:

The exemption of land near border areas for national security projects may have adverse consequences on forest cover and wildlife in the north-eastern states of India.

Potential Adverse Effects:

The broad exemption granted for projects like zoos, eco-tourism facilities, and reconnaissance surveys raises concerns about potential negative impacts on forest land and wildlife.

Key Takeaways:

For competitive examinations, it is important to note the following key details:

Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change: Shri Bhupender Yadav

Director General of Forests: Shri Chandra Prakash Goyal

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 introduces significant changes to the existing forest protection laws in India. While it aims to balance conservation with developmental needs, the exemptions and potential consequences raise important points of discussion. It remains to be seen how the bill progresses and what measures will be taken to mitigate any adverse effects on forest ecosystems.