From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Forest Conservation Amendment Act, 2023
Mains level : NA
- The Forest Conservation Amendment Act of 2023 has emerged with limited public discourse, raising concerns about its ramifications for forests and indigenous communities.
- While aimed at addressing climate change and deforestation, the law’s provisions have sparked debates over forest utilization, economic gain, and the rights of forest dwellers, particularly indigenous communities.
Forest Conservation Amendment Act, 2023: Key Provisions
- Focus Areas: The amendment emphasizes climate change mitigation and effective forest management, while also promoting afforestation.
- Jurisdiction Changes: The law restricts its applicability to areas categorized under the 1927 Forest Act and those designated as such after October 25, 1980.
- Exemptions: Forests converted for non-forest use after December 12, 1996, and those within 100 kilometers of the China-Pakistan border for potential linear projects are exempt.
- Security Measures: The central government gains authority to construct security infrastructure in areas up to ten hectares, even extending to vulnerable zones of up to five hectares.
- Economic Initiatives: Initiatives like ecotourism, safari, and environmental entertainment may be implemented to enhance forest-dependent livelihoods.
Motivation behind the Amendment
- Godavarman Thirumulkpad Case: A landmark legal case in 1996 influenced the interpretation of forest land and led to the inclusion of private forests under the 1980 law.
- Industrial Progress: Opposition to the law stemmed from concerns about hindering industrial growth and private landowners’ interests.
- Debate and Controversy: The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill prompted extensive discussions but was passed with limited opposition, raising concerns among indigenous communities and human rights activists.
Prior Consent and Indigenous Rights
- Amendments in 2016 and 2017: These stipulated mandatory prior consent from tribal grama sabha for non-forest alterations, a provision now removed.
- State-Level Engagement: State governments may involve grama sabhas in decisions related to land acquisition but might be cautious due to perceived hindrance to economic initiatives.
- Impact on Forest Rights Act (FRA): FRA implementation has faced challenges, with governments preferring to limit forest areas rather than amend the Act to address Adivasi claims.
Compensatory Afforestation Concerns
- Ambiguities: Past issues with the Compensatory Afforestation Act have arisen from ambiguities and land shortages.
- Environmental Implications: The new amendment mandates afforestation elsewhere for every parcel of land lost, but lacks specifications, leaving room for discretion.
Forest Governance and Federal Norms
- Afforestation vs. Forest Governance: Financial incentives for afforestation projects clash with forest governance principles, and concurrent list governance practices contradict federal norms.
- Security and Environmental Concerns: While internal environmental security is crucial, it often takes a backseat to external security threats, impacting States prone to natural disasters.
- The Forest Conservation Amendment Act of 2023 raises complex issues related to forest governance, indigenous rights, and environmental security.
- While aimed at addressing critical challenges, its implementation and impact on forest communities warrant careful consideration and debate to ensure a balanced approach to conservation and development.