The Centre has proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, to liberalise forest laws. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, came into force to address deforestation. Though the Indian Forest Act has been in force since 1927, it was geared to allow the colonial British administration to control the extraction of timber and not aimed at preserving forests or addressing deforestation.
While States had already notified forest land, the FCA made it necessary to get the Centre’s permission for using such forest land for “non forestry purposes” and the creation of an advisory committee to recommend such re-classification.
According to the proposal, deemed forests listed by state governments up to 1996 will continue to be considered forest land. Land that was acquired by the Railways and the road ministries before 1980— before the FCA came into effect — but on which forests came up, will no longer be considered forests.
The Environment Ministry also proposes adding a clause to make punishments under the modified Act punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year and make it cognisable and non-bailable. They also propose provisions for penal compensation to make good for the damages already done to trees in forest land.
The document also proposes removing zoos, safaris, Forest Training infrastructures from the definition of “non-forestry” activities. The current definition restricts the way money collected as part of compensatory cess can be spent towards forest conservation purposes.
India, as part of its climate change action plan, has committed to create a carbon sink to lock in 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030. This can be achieved only through planting trees on private land and the current laws pose an impediment to encouraging private landowners to grow more trees.
The current laws also have complicated definitions of the forest land that those leasing mining spaces could hold, and there were also developments in drilling technology that helped scope certain tracts of forest land without causing fundamental damage to the underlying aquifers. Thus, they too could be exempted.