Seeing forests everywhere: A cure is finally within sight

Source: The post is based on the article “Seeing forests everywhere: A cure is finally within sight” published in Live Mint on 21st July 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Government policies and interventions aimed at development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Relevance: About Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023

News: The Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 will be discussed in the monsoon session of the Parliament.

What are the key provisions of Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023?

Read Here: Objections overruled, Forest Bill goes to House unchanged

What was the need of Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023?

Delay in Approval Process: The existing Forest Conservation Act requires consent from numerous authorities at the state and national levels before engaging in any non-forest activity in an area designated as ‘forest.’

This approval process was very difficult and challenging. It took almost a year even for minor requests like building access paths on the designated forest land.

Judgment Errors:  The Union government, with the amendment, aims to rectify judicial errors made in the Godavarman case regarding the scope of forest laws in India.

The court in the case expanded the scope of the Forest Conservation Act to all land parcels recorded as forest in any government records. This led to debates and confusions about whether a piece of land was actually a forest or a fragile ecosystem.

The court decision also affected the landowners because land once classified as a forest can hardly be used for any other purpose. This created inconsistencies in land records, affecting various businesses.

For instance, approximately 30 resorts in Karnataka became a subject of dispute between the state’s revenue and forest authorities due to conflicting views on whether the land they were utilizing was classified as forest land or not.

The court judgement also discouraged state governments from reclassifying property that did not meet the criteria for forest status.

For instance, footpaths were classified as ‘strip forests,’ creating unnecessary hurdles for people who needed access roads to their properties.

The order further weakened property rights by extending the Forest Conservation Act to all land parcels that met the dictionary definition of ‘forest,‘ including privately owned land.

This had implication on constructing buildings even on the land owned by an individual.

Hence, it was essential for Parliament to rectify the situation and for this it has come with the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

What are the concerns with the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023?

Read Here: Green washing – Changes to conservation laws must be backed by scientific evidence and Trading forests for trees

What can be the way ahead?

The broad definition of forests serves as a cautionary regarding policymaking falling under the control of the judiciary.

Hence, it is now crucial to rectify this situation, prioritize the well-being of both forests and non-forest land, and restore the proper balance in policymaking.

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