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The Lok Sabha passed the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday, without any changes from the first version introduced on March 29. The contentious Bill was introduced to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
The 1980 legislation has empowered the Centre for the past four decades, to ensure that any forest land diverted for ‘non-forestry’ purposes is duly compensated. It extends its remit to land even beyond what is officially classified as ‘forest’ in State and Central government records.
The amendments made by the Bill and now passed by the Lok Sabha encourage the practice of cultivating plantations on non-forest land, which can increase tree cover over time, act as a carbon sink and aid India’s ambitions of having ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2070.
They also seek to remove restrictions imposed by the original Act in creating infrastructure that would aid national security and create livelihood opportunities for those living on the periphery of forests.
The Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023
It is a bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian Parliament) on July 26, 2023. The bill amends the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, which regulates the use of forest land for non-forest purposes.
The main changes introduced by the bill are:
- The bill exempts certain categories of land from the purview of the Forest Conservation Act, including land within 100 km of India’s borders, land required for national security projects, and land used for public roads, railways, and other infrastructure.
- The bill reduces the requirement for prior government approval for the use of forest land for non-forest purposes. Under the current law, prior approval is required for any use of forest land for non-forest purposes, except for certain specified purposes. The bill reduces this requirement to only those purposes that are specifically mentioned in the bill.
- The bill introduces a new provision for the use of forest land for compensatory afforestation. Under this provision, the government can allow the use of forest land for non-forest purposes, if it is compensated by afforesting an equivalent area of land elsewhere.
The bill has been met with criticism from environmental groups, who argue that it will lead to the further destruction of India’s forests. They argue that the bill will make it easier for the government to divert forest land for commercial purposes, and that the compensatory afforestation provisions are not adequate to offset the loss of forest cover.
The government has defended the bill, arguing that it is necessary to balance the need for conservation with the need for development. They argue that the bill will help to create jobs and boost the economy, while also protecting the environment.
The bill is currently being considered by the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament). It is unclear whether the bill will be passed by the Rajya Sabha, or whether it will be amended.