Reforms and Provisions: Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023!

 

The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 has gained approval from the Lok Sabha, signifying its intent to introduce substantial modifications to the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, a pivotal legal framework for safeguarding India’s forests. This legislative move is rooted in the historical context where extensive portions of forest land were designated as protected, but this classification omitted certain forested regions, while areas devoid of established forests were incorporated into the ‘forest’ category.

Forest conservation amendment bill 2023

What are the primary elements outlined in the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill of 2023?

  • Expanding the Act’s Scope: The Bill widens the Act’s purview by incorporating a preamble. The Act’s name underwent a change to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980, highlighting the potential of its provisions.
  • Application to Diverse Lands: Initially applicable to designated forest land, the Act later encompassed revenue forest land and lands recognized as forest in government records. The amendments aim to simplify the Act’s application to recorded forest lands, private forests, and plantations, among other categories.
  • Providing Exemptions: The Bill suggests specific exemptions to incentivize afforestation and plantation outside traditional forest areas. Proposals include allocating 0.10 ha of forest land for connectivity near roads and railways, up to 10 ha of land for security-related infrastructure, and up to 5 ha of forest land in districts affected by Left Wing Extremism for public utility projects. These exemptions also encompass strategic projects related to national security within 100 km of international borders, Line of Actual Control (LAC), Line of Control (LoC), and more.
  • Enabling Development: The Bill extends existing provisions from the Principal Act, allowing forest land assignment on lease to private entities and government companies. This step aims to facilitate development projects while ensuring consistent Act implementation.

Forest conservation amendment bill 2023

  • Introducing Novel Forestry Activities: The amendments introduce fresh activities, including infrastructure development for frontline forest personnel, ecotourism, zoos, and safaris, expanding the array of forest-related endeavors. Surveys and investigations within forest areas will no longer be considered non-forestry activities.
  • Addressing Climate Change and Conservation: The Bill’s objective is to ensure these areas contribute to India’s climate change mitigation efforts, recognizing them as part of forest conservation initiatives and supporting India’s global commitments like achieving Net Zero Emission by 2070.
  • Empowering Local Communities: The Bill encourages activities such as establishing government-owned zoos, safaris, and ecotourism ventures, to be set up in approved plans outside Protected Areas. These endeavors not only enhance awareness about forest conservation and wildlife protection but also generate livelihood opportunities for local communities, integrating them into broader development initiatives.

What apprehensions are associated with the implications of the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023?

  • Disapproval of Hindi Name:  Contentions arose over the new Hindi name of the Act, as it was deemed “exclusive,” excluding many individuals from the “(non-Hindi speaking) population” in South India and the North-East.
  • Effects on Environmentally Sensitive Zones: The exemptions proposed in the Bill, especially those related to strategic projects near international borders, have sparked concerns regarding potential forest clearance in ecologically fragile areas like the Himalayan, trans-Himalayan, and northeastern regions. The 2023 Bill could infringe upon the rights of indigenous communities residing along India’s borders. Without proper “evaluation and mitigation strategies,” such clearances might jeopardize biodiversity and trigger extreme weather occurrences.

Forest conservation amendment bill 2023

  • Constraints in Scope: The Bill confines its reach exclusively to areas officially designated as forests on or after October 1980. This exclusion might omit substantial portions of forest land and biodiversity-rich zones from the Act’s coverage, potentially permitting their sale, diversion, clearance, and exploitation for non-forestry purposes.
  • Balance Between Concurrent List and Center-State Roles: Several state governments contend that forest conservation falls within the Concurrent List, involving both the Center and State authorities. They posit that the proposed amendments might tip the balance towards the Center and could impact the rights and jurisdiction of state governments concerning forest preservation matters.

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