- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Indian Forest Act amendment
What to study?
For Prelims: Key features of the Indian Forest Act and amendments.
For Mains: Need for review and the expected outcomes.
Context: The Mizoram government has rejected the Centre’s proposed amendment to Indian Forests Act, 1927, on the ground that it violates the special provisions guaranteed to the state under Article 371G of the Constitution.
Article 371(G) of the Constitution states that the Parliament cannot decide on the matters of the religious and social practices of the Mizos, civil and criminal law of the land, land ownership transfer, and customary law procedure without the consent of the Assembly.
What’s the issue?
Mizoram argues that it does not come under the purview of the Indian Forests Act of 1927.
The Mizoram Forest Act of 1955 governs the state’s forests in line with customary laws.
Highlights of the draft amendments:
- The amendment defines community as “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”.
- Forest is defined to include “any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest/forest land in any government record and the lands managed by government/community as forest and mangroves, and also any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act.”
- While the preamble of IFA, 1927, said the Act was focused on laws related to transport of forest produce and the tax on it, the amendment has increased the focus to“conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability to ensure provision of ecosystem services in perpetuity and to address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments”.
- Increased role of states:The amendments say if the state government, after consultation with the central government, feels that the rights under FRA will hamper conservation efforts, then the state “may commute such rights by paying such persons a sum of money in lieu thereof, or grant of land, or in such other manner as it thinks fit, to maintain the social organisation of the forest dwelling communities or alternatively set out some other forest tract of sufficient extent, and in a locality reasonably convenient, for the purpose of such forest dwellers”.
- The amendment also introduces a new category of forests — production forest. These will be forests with specific objectives for production of timber, pulp, pulpwood, firewood, non-timber forest produce, medicinal plants or any forest species to increase production in the country for a specified period.
Concerns with regard to the proposed amendments:
- The Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence.
- The hard-line policing approach is reflected in the emphasis on creating infrastructure to detain and transport the accused.
- To penalise entire communities through denial of access to forests for offences by individuals. Such provisions invariably affect poor inhabitants, and run counter to the empowering and egalitarian goals that produced the Forest Rights Act.
- For decades now, the Forest Department has resisted independent scientific evaluation of forest health and biodiversity conservation outcomes. In parallel, environmental policy has weakened public scrutiny of decisions on diversion of forests for destructive activities such as mining and large dam construction.
- Impact assessment reports have mostly been reduced to a farce, and the public hearings process has been
- The exclusion of ‘village forestry’ from the preview of Forest Right Act (forest official supersedes Gram Sabha) is legally contradictory and would add confusion on the ground.
- The draft mentions that the state governments could take away the rights of the forest dwellers if the government feels it is not in line with “conservation of the proposed reserved forest” by payment to the people impacted or by the grant of land.
Sources: the Hindu.