ACTS AND AMENDMENTSEnvironment and EcologyGeneral Studies II

Draft amendment to Forest Conservation Act


The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has proposed several amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA).

Draft amendments:

  1. They propose to grant exemptions to railways, roads, tree plantations, oil exploration, wildlife tourism and ‘strategic’ projects in forests.
  2. They seek to empower state governments to lease forest land to private individuals and corporations.
  3. Amendments seek to complete the process of forest identification in a time-bound manner.
  4. They also propose to enable the creation of ‘no-go’ areas, where specific projects would not be allowed.

What’s the issue and concern?

If the proposed amendments come into force, they would dilute the provisions of the landmark 1996 decision of the Supreme Court in Godavarman case (TN Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union Of India & Ors).

The case had started off as a petition to stop illegal felling of timber in the Nilgiri hills, but ended up expanding the coverage of the FCA.

The proposed amendment purportedly seeks to reduce the scope of this judgment by limiting the applicability of the FCA to only such land that has been:

  1. Declared or notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
  2. Recorded as forest land in the government record prior to 25 October 1980, with the exception of such land if its use has been changed from forest to non-forest purpose prior to 12 December 1996.
  3. Identified as “forest” by a state government expert committee up to one year from the date of the amendment.

On December 12, 1996, a bench led by Chief Justice J.S. Verma passed an interim order directing that tree-felling and non-forestry activity in forests across the country be stopped. The path-breaking order re-defined the meaning of forests and extended protection to all areas with natural forests irrespective of their ownership. It laid down that ‘forests’ will be understood by its dictionary meaning, and the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, shall apply to all thickly wooded areas. States were directed to form expert committees to identify forests as defined and file reports. Senior Counsel Harish Salve was appointed Amicus Curie to assist the Supreme Court.

The Hindu

About the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980:

  1. The FCA is the principal legislation that regulates deforestation in the country.
  2. It prohibits the felling of forests for any “non-forestry” use without prior clearance by the central government.
  3. The clearance process includes seeking consent from local forest rights-holders and from wildlife authorities.
  4. The Centre is empowered to reject such requests or allow it with legally binding conditions.

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

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