Government proposes amendments to Forest Conservation Act; Know why
The Ministry of Environment has proposed to exempt the development of border infrastructure on forest land from obtaining prior approval from the Central Government under the Act.
The Ministry of Environment has proposed to amend the Forest Conservation Act in order to do away with the requirement of prior government approval for the development of border infrastructure on forest land. The Ministry has claimed that it causes delays in the implementation of critical projects.
The Environment Ministry has also invited suggestions from States and UTs and all the people concerned on the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, within the next 15 days.
The ministry, in addition, has proposed to allow the states to permit non-forest use of forest land for the implementation of strategic and security projects that are required to be completed in a given time frame. It has also proposed removing safaris, zoos, forest training infrastructure from the definition of non-forestry activities.
What is Forest Conservation Act?
Under the Forest Conservation Act, the approval by the Central Government is mandatory before any State or UT order on diversion, de-reservation, and assignment of lease of any forest land or the use of forest land for non-forest activities.
Why government proposes to amend Forest Conservation Act?
The Ministry of Environment while proposing to exempt infrastructure projects from obtaining prior approval from the Central Government under the Act said, “Development of infrastructure along the international border areas is crucial to keep Indian border intact and to uphold the sovereignty of the country.”
It added, “Given the present scenario of obtaining approval for non-forestry use of forest land, many times, security and strategic projects of national importance get delayed which results in a setback to the development of such infrastructure at critical locations.”
Stringent punishments to discourage offences
The Environment Ministry, while noting that there have been several violations of the provisions of the Act, said that it will make punishment more stringent to discourage offences under the law. The Ministry proposed that the offences will be non-bailable and cognizable and will also entail imprisonment for the period that may extend for one year.
Government plans to exempt approval for the lands acquired before 1980
The Environment Ministry has also been planning to exempt from prior government approval the lands which were acquired before 1980 when the Forest Conservation Act first came into existence. The ministry noted that it has caused resentment in public sector bodies, including Public Works Department (PWD) and Railways.
The Ministry explained that there is strong resentment in Railway Ministry, Road, Transport & Highways Ministry, etc. for the interpretation of the scope of applicability of the Act over the Right of Way (RoW) of highways, railways, etc.
It stated that in most cases, these RoWs are claimed to have been formally acquired by these organisations long before 1980, with a specific purpose to establish/construct rail lines and roads. Part of the land was used for the purpose it was acquired before 1980 and the remaining part of the acquired land was left as such for future expansions/constructions.
The ministry further said that the trees or forest existing over the leftover land was, thus, left as such (prior to 1980), and further, the blank areas were planted under different government schemes.
With the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act and further clarification on its scope of applicability by the Supreme Court, all such lands now require prior approvals of Central Government for non-forestry use.