|Introduction: Give a brief context of the Forest Conservation Act.|
Body: Highlight key features of the bill and its implications on forest cover and biodiversity.
Conclusion: Way forward
The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 was introduced in Lok Sabha to make changes to The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The proposed amendments focus on building carbon stocks in plantations and providing land for compensatory afforestation in place of diverted forest land. The Bill aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2070, creating a carbon sink, increasing forest cover, and improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.
Key Changes Proposed In The Bill:
- Restrict the scope of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980: The current Amendment limits the application of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 to only lawfully notified forests and forests listed in official records as of October 25, 1980, or later. Nearly 2,00,000 square kilometers, or about 28%, of India’s forest cover, could be affected by this transformation.
- Exclude Biodiversity Hotspots: As the bill eliminates the requirement for forest approvals for security-related infrastructure up to 100 km from international borders, it excludes some of India’s most vulnerable ecosystems like forests in northeastern India and the high-altitude forests and meadows of the Himalayas.
- Exemption provisions: The proposed amendment introduces exemptions for construction projects such as zoos, safari parks, and eco-tourism facilities. This trade-off between natural forests and artificially created green areas weakens the conservation goals of the legislation.
Key implications of these changes on India’s forest cover and biodiversity:
- Destruction of forest cover: The amendment could impact forest cover of states like Nagaland which are unclassified and protected by clans. The amendment will allow freedom of construction and development in areas around Aravalli Hills in the Delhi National Capital Region impacting water security and ecology of the region.
- Exclusion of Tribals: The exclusion and diversion of forests will negatively impact tribals. There is complete ambiguity in the proposed amendment effect on Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
- Unrestricted power to Centre: The amendment grants unrestricted powers to the Union government to designate “exempted areas” which raise legitimate concerns about the potential exploitation of forest resources without adequate environmental scrutiny.
By giving preference to plantations, restricting the Act’s scope, and extending exclusions, the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 weakens forest conservation. To preserve forests and wildlife, a balance must be struck and indigenous rights must be preserved. There should be checks and balances to assess the impact of projects that change land use and to mitigate the impacts resulting from environmental destruction.