The Will’s Not There For Our Woods

Source: The post is based on the article “The Will’s Not There For Our Woodspublished in The Times of India on 3rd August 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Relevance: concerns associated with the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023.

News: The article explains the concerns associated with the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023.

Why was FCA originally enacted?

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What did the Supreme Court say in Godavarman (1996)? 

The judgment made two key observations:

  1. The term “forest land” in the FCA referred to all forest areas, regardless of ownership or condition.
  2. The FCA applied to lands recorded as forests in government records and also to forest lands not officially notified or recorded but fulfilling the dictionary definition of forests (often known as “deemed forests”).

As a result, states were mandated to establish district-level committees responsible for identifying and reporting all forests, including degraded and denuded forest areas.

In 1997, states submitted expert committee reports on forest identification, but there were significant variations in the process.

What did the Lafarge judgment (2011) require? 

In the judgment, the SC issued guidelines instructing states to conduct an exercise to identify forests, including those falling under the dictionary meaning.

The court provided a specific procedure to follow in cases where there was uncertainty about whether an area should be classified as a forest or not.

How does the FC Amendment 2023, impact forests as per dictionary meaning?

Section 1A of the Act states that the provisions of FCA will cover lands that are either (a) notified by statute as forest, or are (b) not notified by statute as forest, but recorded as forest in government record.

The FC Amendment does not address forests as per the dictionary meaning, raising uncertainties about the future status of already identified forest lands as per dictionary meaning.

The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and climate change has clarified that areas identified in 1997 by the expert committees will be recorded as forests. However, the wording of the amendment creates ambiguity.

Must Read: Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023: Explained

Who are other potential impacts of the amended act? 

First, the real estate and mining lobbies are expected to benefit the most from the proposed changes. Forest lands in states like Haryana and Uttarakhand may decrease if they are not identified as forests as per the dictionary meaning.

The threat is particularly high in the NCR region, where the potential windfall gains for real estate in the Aravallis could lead to the loss of significant forested areas.

Second, citizens who rely on the hydrological functions of forests, such as groundwater recharge and stream flow, will be the biggest losers.

This is because forested watersheds play a crucial role in sustaining springs, streams, and groundwater sources, which are essential for the success of the Har Ghar Nal Se Jal program.

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