The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change came with the proposal of several amendments in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA).
About the Draft Amendments
- Strategic projects: The amendments talk about granting an exemption for strategic projects of railways, roads, tree plantations, oil exploration, wildlife tourism, in the forest.
- Power to states:The proposal also aims to give powers to state governments to lease forest land to private individuals and corporations.
- Support to FCA:The amendmentspropose some changes to strengthen the FCA:
- To complete the forest identification process in a time-bound manner
- To enable the formation of ‘no-go’ areas
- Exploration exemptions:A provision is also added to exempt application of FCA on forest land ‘for underground exploration and production of oil and natural gas through Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) which originates outside forest land.
- Studies: Survey, prospecting,reconnaissance, exploration, or investigation for future activity in the forest will not be categorized as a “non-forestry activity.
- Native species: It exempts plantation of native species of palm and oil-bearing trees from the “non-forest purpose”.
- New establishments: The establishment of “forest and wildlife training infrastructure” and the “establishment of zoos and safaris” managed by the government under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 will be permitted.
- If the proposed amendments come into force, they are expected to dilute the provisions of the l1996 decision of the Supreme Court of the Godavarmancase (TN GodavarmanThirumulkpad vs Union Of India &Ors).
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
- The FCA is the principal legislation that regulates deforestation in the country.
- It prohibits the felling of forests for “non-forestry” use without clearance by the central government.
- The clearance process also has provision to seek consent from forest rights-holders (local) and wildlife authorities.
- Supreme Court’s decision in Godavarman
- The Supreme Court in T.N. GodavarmanThirumulkpad v. Union Of India &Ors. (Godavarman) on December 12, 1996,held that
- the meaning of “forest” under the FCA would also include not only statutorily recognized forests but also any area recorded as forest in government records, regardless of ownership
- The restrictions in the FCA would apply to de jure and de facto forests both.