Tweak in 1927 law to finally define what makes a forest
A non-government expert who is a committee member for amending the Act said the Indian Forest Act is “archaic” and not in sync with new concepts such as the Forest Rights Act 2006, payment of eco-system services, forest certification and private conservancy.Updated: Dec 27, 2018 10:24 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Forest areas could be redefined when the Indian Forest Act 1927 is amended next year. The union environment ministry set up a committee in 2016 to study the law and suggest amendments to make it relevant to current times.
Since then, the committee has had several meetings and prepared a draft of the law. One of the recommendations of the committee is to define forests as per the Supreme Court’s judgment of 1996 in the Godavarman case, which had said that forests should be identified as per dictionary meaning of the word.
Senior forest officials told HT that the first draft of the amendment is ready and consultations with state governments on the draft may begin in early 2019. The lack of a definition for forests has led to ambiguity in many states over conservation of forests outside protected areas. In Haryana for example, large stretches of the Aravalis have not been declared forests because the Haryana government said they are waiting for a definition of forests and because large swathes of forests are in private lands. “The SC order of 1996 is the law of the land. It will now be incorporated in the Indian Forest Act for further clarity,” said a senior environment ministry official.
A non-government expert who is a committee member for amending the Act said the Indian Forest Act is “archaic” and not in sync with new concepts such as the Forest Rights Act 2006, payment of eco-system services, forest certification and private conservancy. “All of these concepts have been introduced in the draft. But there have been lots of arguments with other committee members and now states will also have their say,” he said. Non-government members are worried if the draft will be cleared in time before the elections in 2019. Otherwise the entire exercise of recommending amendments will be futile, they said. “As legal and NGO members, we are trying to ensure that the Act is in line with the Forest Rights Act 2006 which gives ownership rights over forests to tribals and other forest dwellers. The bureaucrats have some reservations,” a committee member said.
“While it’s good that the SC judgement in the Godavarman case will be incorporated, a national level definition may not address the issues faced by low forest cover states such as Haryana and Rajasthan. There should be different criteria for low forest cover states where even scrub forests should be considered as forests,” said Chetan Agarwal, an environmental analyst.
Tushar Dash of non-profit research group Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA) said the “Indian Forest Act is a colonial legislation framed with a colonial structure of governance. A democratic paradigm of involving forest dwellers was established under the Forest Rights Act 2006. A large number of penal cases filed against forest dwellers are under Indian forest Act and State Forest Acts which criminalizes tribals and forest dwellers for being on forest land. This should be addressed in the amendment,”
The environment ministry had constituted a committee of principal conservator chief of forests (PCCFs) from Madhya Pradesh; Chhattisgarh; Maharashtra; Manipur; Noyal Thomas, inspector general of forests; Shankar Shrivastava, advocate , high court of Madhya Pradesh; Sanjay Upadhyay, SC advocate; Ravi Singh, secretary general of WWF among others for amendment of Indian Forest Act consisting. Earlier this year, the government had amended a part of the Indian Forest Act. After amending Section 2(7) of Indian Forest Act, 1927, bamboo is no longer a tree and felled bamboo too is not timber. So any bamboo grown in private or homestead land by millions of farmers does not require a felling permission or transit permission from any state forest department anymore.
First Published: Dec 27, 2018 10:24 IST