Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Why protecting India’s forests should be a part of national security?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Present status of forests in India, Forest Conservation Amendment Bill, 2023, key provisions

Mains level: Importance of preserving forests, Forest Conservation Amendment Bill, 2023,concerns and way forward


What’s the news?

  • Recently, a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) gave its endorsement to the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, which seeks to amend the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The proposed amendments have attracted objections and controversy, raising concerns.

Central idea

  • Since the early 1970s, growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by human activities has led to an understanding of its impact on our lives. Disastrous events, such as wildfires, extreme weather conditions and the loss of biodiversity, have adversely affected billions of people worldwide. In response, numerous multilateral environmental agreements and policies have been established to reverse these trends.

What is the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023?

  • The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill is a proposed legislation aimed at amending the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 in India.
  • The proposed amendments seek to address certain issues and introduce changes to enhance forest conservation efforts and promote sustainable development.

Background: Forest Conservation Act, 1980

  • The Forest Conservation Act, 1980, was enacted to protect the country’s forests and empower the central government to regulate the extraction of forest resources, including timber, bamboo, coal, and minerals, by industries and forest-dwelling communities.
  • Prior to the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act, extensive deforestation and diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes were prevalent.
  • From 1951 to 1975, approximately four million hectares of forest land were diverted. However, since the Act came into effect, from 1980 to 2023, only around one million hectares have been diverted.

Analysis: Proposed Amendments and Their Implications

  • Reclassification of Forest Areas:
  • The proposed amendment restricts the Forest Conservation Act’s application to only areas officially declared as forest after October 25, 1980, which may invalidate the expansive interpretation provided by the Supreme Court’s 1996 judgment.
  • Potentially, this could lead to thousands of square kilometers of forests losing legal protection, putting 27.62 percent of India’s forest cover at risk.
  • Exemptions for Projects Near Border Areas and Security Purposes:
  • The amendment proposes to eliminate the requirement of forest clearances for security-related infrastructure within 100 km of international borders.
  • While national security is important, ecological security plays an equally critical role in safeguarding citizens’ well-being. Fast-tracking without environmental appraisal could lead to irreversible damage to ecologically significant ecosystems in these regions.
  • Exemptions for Zoos, Safari Parks, and Ecotourism Activities:
  • Granting exemptions for zoos, safari parks, and ecotourism activities may result in the destruction of natural ecosystems, which are vital in buffering against climate change-induced weather patterns.
  • Instead, conservation centers should be established away from forested areas, and ecotourism projects should undergo thorough environmental assessments to prevent adverse impacts.
  • Disempowering Local Communities:
  • The proposal to exempt a vast number of projects from the clearance process would deprive forest-dwelling communities of their right to be consulted.
  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, mandates obtaining free, prior, and informed consent from local communities through gram sabhas.
  • By bypassing this process, the proposed amendment undermines the rights of forest-dwelling tribal people and others.

Challenges in forest conservation in India

  • Inadequate Forest Cover: With only 21 percent of India’s land area having forest cover and a mere 12.37 percent being intact natural forest, meeting the target of 33 percent forest cover poses a significant challenge.
  • Decline in Northeastern Forests: The northeastern states, known for their biodiversity richness, have experienced a net decline of 3,199 sq km of forest cover from 2009 to 2019, further exacerbating the forest conservation challenge.

Why should protecting India’s forests be a part of national security?

  • Ecological Security: Forests play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance and stability, providing essential ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, water regulation, and biodiversity conservation.
  • Climate Change Mitigation: By safeguarding forests, India can contribute significantly to global efforts in mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Water Security: Forests act as natural watersheds, regulating water flow and ensuring the replenishment of groundwater, thereby securing a sustainable water supply.
  • Biodiversity Conservation: Protecting forests is vital for maintaining ecological resilience and preserving unique plant and animal species.
  • Livelihoods and Food Security: Millions of people, especially tribal communities, depend on forests for their livelihoods, food, and cultural practices.
  • Prevention of Conflict: Protecting forests near international borders can help prevent conflicts related to resource disputes and cross-border activities.
  • National Economy and Resources: Forests contribute significantly to the national economy through industries like timber and non-timber forest products.
  • Health and Well-being: Access to green spaces and forests promotes healthier lifestyles and reduces stress, benefiting public health.

Way forward: key steps and strategies to consider

  • Strengthen Implementation of Existing Laws: Rather than introducing new amendments, focus on enhancing the implementation of existing laws, such as the Forest Act, 1980, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006. Effective enforcement and monitoring of these laws can lead to better protection of forests and the rights of local communities.
  • Maintain a Broader Interpretation of Forest: Uphold the Supreme Court’s interpretation of forest as encompassing all forests, regardless of official declarations. This will ensure the continued legal protection of ecologically sensitive areas, preventing the loss of forests due to reclassification.
  • Preserve Ecologically Important Areas: Avoid exempting projects near border areas and for security purposes from forest clearances, especially in ecologically significant regions like the northeastern states. Maintain a balance between national security concerns and ecological security.
  • Review Exemptions for Development Projects: Reassess the exemptions for zoos, safari parks, and ecotourism activities. Develop guidelines and criteria for ecotourism projects that prioritize environmental conservation and minimize negative impacts.
  • Ensure Transparent Decision-Making: Eliminate the provision allowing the central government to exempt clearances for any other purposes to avoid potential misuse, and ensure transparent and accountable decision-making in all projects.
  • Empower Local Communities: Uphold the rights of forest-dwelling communities by actively involving them in decision-making processes. Obtain free, prior, and informed consent through gram sabhas before implementing any projects on forest lands.
  • Raise Public Awareness: Educate the public about the importance of forests, biodiversity, and environmental conservation. Create awareness campaigns to garner public support for sustainable forest management and protection.
  • Research and Science-Based Conservation: Support scientific research on forest ecosystems and their functions. Utilize scientific evidence to inform conservation policies and strategies.


  • While the preamble of the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill, 2023, outlines commendable goals, the proposed amendments themselves appear to contradict these objectives. It is essential to prioritize environmental protection and consider the long-term consequences of such amendments on India’s natural ecosystems and the well-being of its citizens. To safeguard our environment for future generations, it is crucial to avoid any changes that weaken existing protective measures.

Also read:

Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill and the Forests rights


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