Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023

  • The Lok Sabha has recently passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023.
Probable Question: Q. Critically examine the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 passed recently.  (250 words)
About the News: 
  • Amendment to FCA 1980: It seeks to amend the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980 which regulates the extraction of forest resources including timber and other minerals by industries and local communities.
    • Modifies the criteria for including and excluding forest land from the purview of the Act.
    • Expands the list of forest activities that will be permitted on forest land.
  • Aim: It seeks to broaden the horizons of the Act to boost the country’s forest cover to create a carbon sink of additional 2.5-3.0 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
Need For Amendment bill:
  • Varied Interpretations of the act: The act’s applicability in different types of lands has changed, resulting in different interpretations of its provisions, especially in recorded forest lands, private forest lands, plantations, etc.
  • Afforestation and plantation of trees outside forests: Afforestation and tree planting outside forests are lagging due to concerns that the FCA will target private landowners.
  • Fast tracking of strategic and security related projects: Projects of national importance need to be fast-tracked to ensure development of vital security infrastructures, especially along the international border areas.
  • Connecting remote habitations to public utilities: small habitations along roads/railways need access to main arterial roads and other public utilities.
Features of the Bill:
  1. Land under the purview of the Act:
    • Land covered:
      • Land that has been declared or notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or any other law.
      • Land that was not initially classified as a forest but was later notified as one on or after October 25, 1980, in a government record.
    • Excluded land: Land that was converted from forest use to non-forest use on or before December 12, 1996, by any authority authorized by a state or union territory (UT).
  2. Exempted categories of land for constructing strategic linear projects: 
    • Forest land along a railway line or public road maintained by the government.
    • Forest land within 100 km from international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control.
    • Land for Security related infrastructure.
    • Assignment/leasing of forest land:   The Act requires prior approval from the central government for the leasing of forest land to any entity, whether government-owned or not.
Redefining the ambit of “non-forest purpose” exemptions:
    • Non forest land: non-forest purposes include using the land for cultivation of horticultural crops or any purpose other than reafforestation.
    • Exclusion from Non- Forest land: The Bill proposes to expand the list of excluded activities from non-forest land to include:
      • Zoos and safaris under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972
      • Ecotourism facilities
      • Silvicultural operations to enhance forest growth
      • Survey and investigation in the forest areas
  1. Power to issue directions:  
    • The Bill grants the central government the authority to issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any authority or organization under or recognized by the central, state, or union territory government.
  1. Insertion of Preamble:
      • Preamble has been inserted changing the name of the Act as Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980.
Significance of bill: 
  • Facilitating non forestry use of forest land: Elimination of ambiguities in the applicability of Act, will facilitate the decisions making process on the proposals involving non-forestry use of forest land by the authorities.
  • Quick Response to Hazards: Inclusion of more forestry activities in the Bill such as infrastructure for the frontline will help to secure quick response to natural hazards in the forests.
  • Improved productivity and ecosystem services: It will pave the way for better management of forest for improved productivity and flow of ecosystem goods and services, and will also mitigate the impact of climate change on conservation of forests.
  • Encouragement to private forests and agroforestry projects:  Farmers or owners of private forests can harvest their lands, for commercial or other uses, without the need for acquiring forest clearance.
  • Livelihood sources to local communities: Mainstreaming protection of forest and enabling local communities by providing livelihood sources through establishment of zoos and safari.
Issues with the bill:
  1. Certain types of forest land which are excluded from the purview of the Act which will lead to degradation of forest and loss of biodiversity.
  2. Exemptions near border areas would cover large parts of the north-eastern region: 
    • Further Decline: Shifting cultivation, felling of trees, natural calamities, anthropogenic pressure, and developmental activities has led to decrease in forest cover and exemption will exacerbate it.
    • Habitat and biodiversity loss: Linear projects which fragments habitat can reduce biodiversity in an area greater than their own footprint.
  3. Poor Identification of the problem: Delay in forest clearance exemption for security related projects is caused mostly by state delays, however the bill reduces the compliance by central government.
  4. Blanket exemption to security projects: Security projects may harm forest cover and biodiversity, so a blanket exemption may not be appropriate.
  • The amendment presented in the Bill aims to rejuvenate the essence of the Act focused on forest conservation and growth. These proposed changes will significantly improve forest productivity, encourage afforestation beyond existing forest areas, and bolster regulatory measures. 
  • Additionally, the amendments aim to address the livelihood needs of local communities, making them a crucial milestone in the advancement of forest management and sustainability.
Additional Information: Forest Cover:
  • Forest cover: Forest cover refers to land greater than one hectare in size with tree canopy density (percentage of land covered by tree canopy) is greater than 10%.
Status in India:
  • India’s total forest cover underwent a net increase of 38,251 sq. km from 2001 to 2021. This increase was mainly in terms of open forest cover, where tree canopy density is 10-40%.
  • In the same period, forest cover with canopy density above 40% declined by 10,140 sq. km.
 News Source: PIB

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