Forest (conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

Forest (conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

News: Recently, the government introduced the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 in Lok Sabha and proposed changes to the Forest (Conservation) Act, (FC) 1980.

 To build forest carbon stock by raising plantations.
 It also seeks to make land available for compensatory afforestation.

What are the proposed changes?

Introduce Preamble
 It proposes to insert a preamble to the Act to encompass the country's rich tradition of preserving forests,
their bio-diversity and tackling climate change challenges within its ambit.

Restriction on activities within forests
 The Act restricts the de-reservation of forest or use of forest land for non-forest purposes. Such restrictions may be lifted with the prior approval of the central government. Non-forest purposes include use of land for cultivating horticultural crops or for any purpose other than reafforestation.
 The Bill adds more activities to this list such as: (i) zoos and safaris under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 owned by the government or any authority, in forest areas other than protected areas, (ii) ecotourism facilities, (iii) silvicultural operations (enhancing forest growth), and (iv) any other purpose specified by the central government.

Power to issue Directions
 The Bill adds that the central government may issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any other authority/ organisations under or recognised by the centre, state, or union territory.

Land under purview of Act
 The Bill provides that two types of land will be under the purview of the Act - (i) land declared/notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or under any other law, or (ii) land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after October 25, 1980 in a government record.
 Further, the Act will not apply to land changed from forest use to non-forest use on or before December 12, 1996 by any authority authorized by a state/UT.

What activities does it exempt?
 All strategic linear projects of 'national importance and concerning national security' within 100 km of international borders, the LAC, and the LoC.

What are main concerns?
 With the amendments, all those forest lands which do not fall in the reserved area but are available in government records before 1980 will not come under the purview of the Act. It moves away from the Supreme Court’s 1996 verdict which had ensured every forest mentioned in government records gets legal protection against deforestation.
 Critics argue that the terms like ‘proposed’, ‘ecotourism facilities’, and ‘any other purposes’ can be exploited or misused for activities damaging forests and ecosystems in forest lands.
 There are concerns that plantations are a significant threat to Indian forests as they replace the natural ecosystems, affect soil quality, and particularly threaten the native biodiversity.

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