Amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980
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Reject the Amendments proposed to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 (FCA) and demand a stronger FCA that protects our forests and communities!

The last date to send comments is November 1st 2021!

On 2nd Oct 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change discreetly announced some highly distressing amendments to the Forest Act 1980, which is one of the key environmental laws of the country. The proposed amendments are part of a larger dilution of existing environment and forest laws.

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We find the process of drafting the amendments without the consultation of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, State Governments & without compliance to National Forest Policy 1988, unacceptable & hence we demand that the amendments are abandoned. 

The amendments listed below make it easier for forest land to be diverted, exploited, & misused for the various non-forest, destructive activities that will have unimaginable consequences on the ecosystem as well as its ripple effects on us. We hope that the Environment Ministry will uphold its obligations towards informed public participation. The proposed amendments will also result in the dilution of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. We believe that the amendments should have added their implication on Biodiversity Act, Forest Rights Act and wetlands which they have failed to do so. 

The Amendments

The proposed amendments grant exemptions to railways, roads, tree plantations, oil exploration, wildlife tourism and 'strategic' projects and agencies involved in national security projects and border infrastructure projects from obtaining prior forest clearance.

 

  • Land acquired by the Railways and Highways Ministries before 25.10.1980 for establishing a rail line or a road will be exempted from forest clearance. Access routes by rail/road inside reserved forests for up to 0.05 hectares no longer need forest clearance 'to alleviate the hardship of residents/business owners'.

 

  • Deep drilling technologies which extract oil and gas from under the forest land but drill from outside the forest boundaries will not be required to obtain a clearance. Section 1A exempts application of FCA on forest land that is "used for underground exploration and production of oil and natural gas through Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) originating outside forest land." The Ministry considers the use of ERD technology quite environment-friendly and as such “should be kept outside the purview of Act”. The said proposal is irrational and unscientific. The above said technology will ultimately result in the destruction of the forest ecosystem, as soil forms the basic part of the ecological balance. Any act involving the destruction of the integrity of the soil will result in irreversible destruction of the ecology. We, therefore suggest that the ERD method is abandoned and oil and natural gas activities are not conducted in forest land.

 

  • Surveying and investigating inside reserved forest land for developmental projects will no longer be categorised into 'non-forest' activity and does not require approval from the center. A new explanation added to Section 2 says that "survey, reconnaissance prospecting, exploration or investigation" for a future activity in the forest will not be classified as a "non-forestry activity"

 

  • A new explanation to Section 2 exempts plantation of native species of palm and oil-bearing trees from the definition of "non-forest purpose". This would effectively imply that anyone who wants to clear a natural forest to raise such plantations would not require any approval from the government. We recommend this clause to be removed as palm oil plantations are known to be destructive for ecology and the environment and this clause makes it easier to set up such plantations. 

 

  • The amendment allows "forest and wildlife training infrastructure" and the "establishment of zoos and safaris" to be established without forest clearances inside reserved forests. This comes a year after the government proposed to open a zoo in Mumbai's Aarey forest and a tiger safari in Madhya Pradesh. Zoos, Safaris should not be considered as forest activity as they are outside/against the biodiversity of the forest and is an animal rights violation.

 

  • The amendment omits Clause 2(ili), which means state governments can issue forest lands on lease to any private corporation, organisation etc. without the Centre's prior approval. The renewal of leases no longer require compensatory fees for degrading forest land. This clause allows easier diversion and therefore damaging of forest land and its ecology for private gains, and should be discarded from the proposed amendments.

 

  • Section 2A allows the central govt. to approve all projects near international borders and on forest land for "strategic" or security projects of "national importance". There is no clarity on the scope of these terms, or on the determination of national importance, giving rise to fears that developmental projects may be proposed in forest land and awarded the term “strategic” to get approval without following any regulations or norms. The term should be clearly defined, in addition to having strict environmental protection regulations if such projects are being initiated. 

 

  • The amendment inserts Section 2B, which allows the central govt. to delineate forest areas into 'non-forest areas' based on predefined criteria. This could mean that a dense forest won't be converted to a coal mine for the next 30 years, but it could be cleared for a thermal power plant.

  • Forests within private property are no longer considered forests. Areas under compensatory afforestation, after 1996, are no longer protected. Furthermore, private plantations are being promoted as the primary method to increase tree cover to fight climate change.

  • Remove the revenue records of non-forest lands under the purview of law after 12.12.96

 

What are the impacts of these amendments?

  • National Forest Policy,1988 targets to achieve one-third area (33% of the country) under forest and tree plantation for better living conditions. However, the current forest cover of India stands at 24.56% which is far from satisfactory. At these times, we need stringent forest conservation laws. Diluting existing forest laws will lead to increased deforestation that will impact the communities & wildlife dependent on it, in addition to contributing to carbon emissions & increased frequency of natural disasters. 

 

  • The amendments limit the coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision that the meaning of forest under FCA would include any area recorded as forest in govt. records, regardless of ownership. 

 

  • The proposed amendments are also in violation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order dated 12.12.1996 passed in the Writ Petition (Civil) No.202/1995 in the matter of T.N.Godandavarman VS Union of India.

 

  • The removal of the Union government’s approval is a step towards the dilution of forest land use protection given by the centre and the states, as it will allow infrastructure projects to come up more easily thus prioritising financial profits and other monetary gains over the conservation of forests and its biodiversity, causing an ecological imbalance.

 

  • The amendment has provided no clarity on the scope of terms like “strategic projects of national importance.”