Explained: Why govt proposes to redefine forests, and the concerns this raises 


Source: This post is based on the article ” Explained: Why govt proposes to redefine forests, and the concerns this raises ” published in The Indian Express on 13th October 2021. 

Syllabus: GS3 – Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment. 

Relevance: Proposed amendment to the Forest Conservation Act

Synopsis: Need of amendment to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the proposed amendments and various concerns associated with this amendments.

Introduction 

Recently, the Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It proposed easing diversion of forests and exempting certain categories of development from the need to take clearance from the Ministry.  

Must Read: Govt proposes changes to Forest Conservation Act
What are the proposed amendments? 

First, all land acquired by the Railways and Roads Ministries prior to 1980 be exempted from the Act. These lands had been acquired for expansion, but subsequently forests have grown in these areas, and the government is no longer able to use the land for expansion.  

If the amendment is brought in, these Ministries will no longer need clearance for their projects, nor pay compensatory levies to build there. 

Second, for individuals whose lands fall within a state-specific Private Forests Act or come within the dictionary meaning of forest as specified in the 1996 Supreme Court order, the government proposes to allow “construction of structures for bona fide purposes’’ including residential units up to 250 sq m as a one-time relaxation. 

Third, Defence projects near international borders will be exempted from forest clearance. 

Fourth, Oil and natural gas extraction from forested lands will be permitted, but only if technologies such as Extended Reach Drilling are used. 

Fifth, doing away with levies for non-forestry purposes during the renewal of a lease, 

Sixth, Strip plantations alongside roads that would fall under the Act will be exempted. 

What are the concerns? 

Corporate ownership: the relaxation of forest rules will facilitate corporate ownership and the disappearance of large tracts of forests. 

Threat to tribals and forest dwelling communities

Negative impacts on wildlife: Exemption for Roads and Railways on forest land acquired prior to 1980 will be detrimental to forests as well as wildlife 

Fragmentation of forests, one time exemption for private residences on private forest will lead to fragmentation of forests, and open areas such as the Aravalli mountains to real estate

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