Deemed Forests

Deemed Forests

News: The Odisha government has rescinded a contentious order that declared the discontinuation of the ‘deemed forests’ category under the amended Forest Act.

• The issue of ‘deemed forests’ has gained attention, particularly in Odisha and Karnataka, where allegations of unscientific classification and impact on agriculture and mining persist.
• Advocates assert that ‘deemed forests’ should adhere to the dictionary meaning of forests, irrespective of ownership. Concerns have been raised about arbitrary classifications affecting farmers and mining activities.

What are Deemed Forests?
• ‘Deemed forests’ refer to areas that are not formally classified as forests by central or state authorities in official records. They lack a clear legal definition, including under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.
• The Supreme Court’s T N Godavarman Thirumulpad Case (1996) embraced an expansive interpretation of forests. It encompassed statutorily recognized forests, irrespective of their reservation status, under the Forest Conservation Act.

What are motives behind reclassification?
• The Centre initiated a review of forest categorization in 2014 to address the classification process’s shortcomings.
• While the dictionary definition guided initial classifications, a lack of objective criteria resulted in subjective designations that hindered clarity and fairness.
• Officials classified land as ‘deemed forest’ without considering local needs, leading to difficulties for farmers and communities dependent on such lands. Some regions categorized as ‘deemed forests’ hold commercial value for mining, prompting calls for reclassification.

What are consequences in Odisha?
• Since 1996, Odisha had designated nearly 66 lakh acres as ‘deemed forest’ with the assistance of districtlevel expert committees. However, many of these areas were not officially recognized as forests in government records.
• The decision sparked controversy as experts and activists raised concerns about the potential ramifications of discontinuing the ‘deemed forest’ classification. The move could impact conservation efforts and the legal status of these lands.
• The Odisha government’s decision to reverse the order discontinuing the ‘deemed forests’ category underscores the significance of clear forest classification and protection policies.

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