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Centre’s proposal to introduce changes in the Forest Conservation Act, 1980- October 20, 2021

Submitted by- Nashrah Fatma

The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 was enacted to curb deforestation. The Indian Forest Act, which has been in effect since 1927, was designed to give the colonial British administration control over timber extraction rather than to protect forests or combat deforestation.

While states had already notified forest land, the FCA required the Centre's authorization before deploying it for "non-forestry activities," as well as the formation of an advisory group to approve such reclassification.

This month, the government reconsidered the proposals of a seven-year-old high-level committee chaired by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, which recommended clubbing the Air Act and Water Act with the Environment Protection Act of 1986, while treating forest and wildlife regulations separately.

Though the environment ministry has been working to streamline existing green laws through various amendments for a few years, the recent move was prompted by the Centre's plan to treat this aspect as a priority, as it was included in the 60-point action plan released after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with secretaries and ministers last month.

It seeks to exempt some types of infrastructure project developers from requesting permission to utilise forest land for non-forestry uses from the Centre. Several examples of land being utilised for afforestation projects necessitated the owners of such land obtaining permission from the Centre to divert it for non-forestry purposes, as well as paying the obligatory compensation cess and arranging for substitute land. According to the Ministry, there were also cases where national security projects were put on hold due to the need for Centre’s approval. It added that this resulted in “setback to development of such infrastructure at critical locations”.

The ministry has stated that it will increase the severity of the punishment in order to deter offences under the law. It proposed that the offences will be cognisable and non-bailable, and will entail a simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year. But the general goal of the proposal is to make it simpler to use forest land for non-forestry activities. The document also proposes removing zoos, safaris, and forest training infrastructures from the definition of "non-forestry" activities. However, the Cabinet and potentially Parliament must yet approve this.


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