The debate around the Forest Conservation Rules

Source: The post is based on the article “The debate around the Forest Conservation Rules” published in The Hindu on 15th July 2022.

What is the News?

The latest version of the Forest Conservation Rules is creating intense debate on forest conservation.

What are the Forest Conservation Rules?

The Forest Conservation Rules deal with the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980. They prescribe the procedure to be followed for forest land to be diverted for non-forestry uses such as road construction, highway development, railway lines, and mining.

What is Forest Advisory Committee (FAC)?

For forest land beyond five hectares, approval for diverting land must be given by the Central government. This is via a specially constituted committee, called the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).

Functions of the committee: This committee examines whether the user agency, or those who have requested forest land a) Have made a convincing case for the upheaval of that specific parcel of land, b) Whether they have a plan in place to ensure that the succeeding damage will be minimal and c) The said piece of land doesn’t cause damage to wildlife habitat.

Process after approval: Once the FAC is convinced and approves (or rejects a proposal), it is forwarded to the concerned State government where the land is located.

The state government has to ensure that provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006 are complied with. State bodies would forward documents to the FAC that would also include information on the status of whether the forest rights of locals in the area were settled or not.

The FAC approval also means that the future users of the land must provide compensatory land for afforestation as well as pay the net present value (ranging between ₹10-15 lakh per hectare.)

Read more: Explained: What are community forest rights, why do they matter?
What is the need for updating of Forest Conservation Rules?

After 2009, the Environment Ministry passed an order mandating that proposals would not be entertained by the FAC unless there was a letter from the State specifying the following,

a) The forest rights in the place had been “settled” and b) The gram sabha, or the governing body in villages in the area, had given their written consent to the diversion of forest.

But the Ministry of Tribal Affairs frequently opposed the order and wanted to do away with the necessary consent from the Gram Sabha.

What are the new updated Forest Conservation Rules?

Firstly, The new rules formally codify the Ministry of Tribal Affairs demands. It says that a project, once approved by the FAC, will then be passed on to the State authorities who will collect the compensatory fund and land, and process it for final approval.

Secondly, the rules make a provision for private parties to cultivate plantations and sell them as land to companies who need to meet compensatory forestation targets.

Read more: Proposed Changes to Forest Conservation Act 1980 – Explained, pointwise
What are the benefits of the new rules?

1) The new rules will help India increase forest cover as well as solve the problems of the States of not finding land within their jurisdiction for compensatory purposes, 2) The new updates will also “streamline the approval process.”

What are the concerns associated with the new rules?

1) The rules do not mention the tribals and forest-dwelling communities whose land would be hived off for developmental work, 2) FAC generally approves land for diversion without examining questions around consent as it relies on the State government to ensure that this is done. The new update is focused on the increase of the approval process and not its assessment.

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