JPC clears all changes on contentious Forest Conservation Amendment Bill | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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JPC clears all changes on contentious Forest Conservation Amendment Bill

ByJayashree Nandi
Jul 20, 2023 06:35 PM IST

In its 201-page report tabled on Thursday, the JPC stated that it received 1,309 memoranda along with comments from various state governments, departments and ministries and four notes of dissent from opposition MPs within the Committee among others

The Joint Parliament Committee (JPC) has cleared all amendments proposed in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023. The Committee approved and adopted its report on the Bill last week.

Parliament House (Representative Photo)
Parliament House (Representative Photo)

The Bill brings about sweeping changes to how forests are governed and seeks to clarify what constitutes a forest, and hence attract provisions of the Forest Conservation Act in case of diversion.

In its 201-page report tabled on Thursday, the JPC stated that it received 1,309 memoranda along with comments from various state governments, departments and ministries and four notes of dissent from opposition MPs within the Committee among others.

Despite stiff opposition from various sectors, the Committee has cleared very contentious amendments, the report suggests.

Several state governments, experts and the ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA) had raised concerns with the preamble of the Bill which states that “the importance of forests is to be realised to enable achievement of national targets of ‘Net Zero Emission by 2070’ and maintain or enhance the forest carbon stocks through ecologically balanced sustainable development.”

Also Read: Forest conservation is the law. What does a new bill seek to amend?

Experts said if the ‘net zero timeline’ is not met, the act will have to be amended again. The MoTA urged that the preamble doesn’t use broad terms such as forest-dependent communities and instead say forest dwelling scheduled tribes (STs)/Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) which has been overruled.

There was widespread opposition to the change of title of the Act to ‘Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam’ which the Committee highlighted that it is non-inclusive since it leaves out vast non-Hindi speaking population in South India and the northeast. Several experts called for a bilingual approach and also stated that the word Samvardhan which means development doesn’t apply since the bill is focused on conservation.

One of the major provisions of the Bill is to cover “only land that has been declared or notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or under any other law. It also seeks to recognise only forest lands that were recorded as forests as on or after October 25, 1980”.

The Bill states that prior forest clearance is not needed in some cases, including for forest land situated within a distance of 100 km along international borders or Line of Control (LoC) or Line of Actual Control (LAC), and which are to be used for construction of a strategic linear project of national importance. Almost all of the northeast would fall into this category.

The amendment bill also exempts from seeking prior forest clearance, strip forests (up to 0.10 hectares or ha) situated alongside a rail line or a public road maintained by the government; tree plantations on private lands that are not categorised as forests; up to 5 ha area proposed to be used for construction of defence related or public utility projects in a Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected area.

The submissions annexed in the report show widespread opposition to these clauses. Defending its move, the environment ministry stated that these exemptions had to be made because of 1. The absence of clarity on the scope of the Act necessitated introducing the “Applicability” section. This is also in line with the clarification given by the Supreme Court in 1996. 2. Government records for the Act needed clarity and accordingly defined as an explanation. 3. Exemption has been proposed to provide connectivity to the roadside amenities, habitation and access to rail. 4. Clarity is being provided to promote plantation on non-forest land as envisaged in the National Forest Policy. 5. Strategic and security-related projects of national importance need to be fast-tracked to ensure the development of vital security infrastructure, especially along the international border areas such as Line of Actual Control (LAC), Line of Control (LoC), as also in the notified LWE areas.

“The major concern of this Bill is that the 2023 Amendment will likely dilute the Supreme Court’s 1996 landmark Godavarman judgment which had widened the scope of the FCA to apply to any land recorded as forest by the government irrespective of its ownership,” a member said.

The ministry of environment, forest and climate change of India (MoEFCC) has stated that there is no dilution of the Supreme Court’s order. The explanation provided under proposed section 1A(1) of the Bill clarifies that all forests, including unclassed forests, recorded in the record of the government, forest department local bodies, or authority will also attract the provisions of the Act.

The dissent notes attached are from MPs Pradyut Bordoloi from the Indian National Congress (INC), Phulo Devi (INC), R Girirajan from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Jawhar Sircar from Trinamool Congress.

“Given that the FCA is of great importance to people across the country, 60% of which are dependent on forests and other ecosystems directly for their sustenance and livelihood, it is vital that is inclusive in its terminologies, not leaving out the population in non-Hindi speaking regions, including the South and the North-East regions,” note from Bordoloi said.

On the exemptions, he also wrote: “Such an amendment would dilute the Supreme Court’s 1996 landmark Godavarman judgment which widened the scope of the FCA to apply to any land recorded as forest by the government irrespective of its ownership. The proposed amendment would in effect limit the scope of the forest clearance mandate under the FCA at a time when India is rapidly losing essential forest cover.”

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