The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has finalised the first draft of the comprehensive amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA) and sent to states for consultation which are to be completed by June 7
• The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was enacted after repealing Indian forest Act 1878 to ‘consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce, and the duty liable on timber and other forest produce’.
• The Act gave the Government and Forest Department the power to create Reserved Forests, and the right to use Reserved Forests for Government use alone.
• Britishers impose Indian Forest Act, 1927 to take over Indian forests, use them to produce timber, while curtailing and extinguishing rights of millions.
Need of Indian forest Act, 2019
- To address the issue of Indian Forest Act, 1927: The Indian Forest Act, 1927 provides immense discretion and powers to the forest bureaucracy. Many experts and several Central government reports have blamed the draconian powers of the forest bureaucracy for alienating tribal and also fuelling left-wing extremism in Central Indian region.
- To address contemporary challenges to India’s forests: There was severe decline in the forest cover of the country mainly because of large-scale diversion of forest lands for agriculture, diversion for “development” projects and regularisation of encroachments by state governments.
- Define forests: Forest is defined to include “any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest/forest land in any government record and the lands managed by government/community as forest and mangroves, and also any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act.”
- Defines community: The amendment defines community as “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”
- Focus on conservation and sustainable management: The amendment has increased the focus to conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability
- International commitments: It address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments
- More Power to forest officers: under Section 66(2) of the Indian Forest (Amendment) Act forest-officer, may if necessary, use firearms for securing of the forest-produce.
- power to centre: The Union government has proposed that the Centre will be able to intervene in the states on matters of management of forestlands, overruling the states on several counts when it deems fit
- Production forest: The amendment introduces a new category of forests — production forest. These will be forests with specific objectives for production of timber, pulp, pulpwood, firewood, non-timber forest produce, medicinal plants or any forest species to increase production in the country for a specified period.
- Levy taxes for forest development: It provides for empowering the state governments to levy cess upto 10% of value assessed of mining products removed from the forests and water used for irrigation or on industries. The cess shall be used exclusively for reforestation, forest protection and other purposes connected with the tree planting, forest development and conservation.
- The proposed amendments also stated that the state government “may recognise and notify private forest at the request of the owner” if the forest is used primarily for environmental conservation and preservation including, protecting water catchments
Issues with the draft Indian Forest Act, 2019
- Clash with Forest Rights Act: The exclusion of ‘village forestry’ from the preview of Forest Right Act (forest official supersedes gram sabha) is legally contradictory and would add confusion on the ground
- Give more power to forest officials: The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence. Critics argue that this would turn quarter of India’s land into police state.
- Definition of forest: Various national and international agencies such as FAO, CBD, UNFCCC and FSI have adopted the definition of forest that account density and area under tree as the basis of definition. While proposed amendment consider only administrative needs and ignores ecological parameters while defining forest.
- Forced relocation of forest dweller: The draft mentions that the state governments could take away the rights of the forest dwellers if the government feels it is not in line with “conservation of the proposed reserved forest” by payment to the people impacted or by the grant of land
India’s forests play a key role in moderating the lives of not just the adivasis and other traditional dwellers, but everyone in the subcontinent, through their impact on the climate and monsoons. Few things that should be kept in mind before finalising the law
- It should aim to reduce conflicts, incentivise tribals and stop diversion for non-forest uses. This can be achieved by recognising all suitable landscapes as forests and insulating them from commercial exploitation.
- The Centre must hear the voice of all stakeholders and communities, including independent scientific experts.