An Analysis on the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023

 Introduction

The amendment act i.e. the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 pertains to the conservation of forests. The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 is divided into six sections. The Forest [Conservation] Amendment Act,2023 has brought many changes pertaining to conservation of forests that create a lasting impact on the various communities and the states of India.

The amendment act i.e. the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 pertains to the conservation of forests. The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 is divided into six sections. The first section of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 is the name of the act. The second section of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 emphasises on the fact that certain targets like increase in forest cover, preservation of biodiversity, maintenance of ecological security, etc. are required to be met for achieving the targets of Net Zero Emission by the year 2070. The third section of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 describes that certain words present in section one shall be substituted. The fourth section of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 describes what land shall be covered and what land shall not be covered under this act. The land that is declared as a forest under the Indian forest act, 1927, or the land that has been recorded in Government record as forest, etc. shall be covered and forest land situated alongside a rail line or a public road maintained by the Government, forest land situated within a distance of one hundred kilometres along international borders or Line of Control or Line of Actual Control, etc. shall not be covered under this act. The fifth section of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 and sixth section of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 also make certain amendments and insertions into the principal act i.e. the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

Forest Law
[Image Sources: Shutterstock]

In the case law of T.N. GODAVARMAN THIRUMULKPAD Vs. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS.[1], The Supreme Court has specified that any sort of land mentioned in the government records even though it is not declared as a ‘forest’ would be considered as forest land. What is necessary is that these lands must have large tree cover. The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 clearly goes against the judgement of T.N. GODAVARMAN THIRUMULKPAD Vs. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS.[2],  as it considers only those lands as forests that are declared by the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or relevant legislations[3]. The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 also mentions that infrastructure projects like construction of roads, highways, etc. located within 100 kms of the national border do not have to seek any sort of permissions. Certain states such as Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, etc. were not supportive of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023. The bill was not even referred to the relevant parliament standing committee. However, it was sent to the JPC which was least interested as it didn’t propose a single change. Many lawyers, environmentalists, and tribal groups protested against  the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 which was completely ignored by the ruling government[4].

A question that stays in the minds of readers, after going through the act is if the government is really trying for conservation and improvement of forest cover in the country or is it just helping different capitalists. If capitalists aren’t being helped through exemptions provided to the infrastructure projects, then who is being benefited by such exemptions? There are other questions that are left unanswered: the reasons behind the bill not being sent to the relevant parliament standing committee and the reasons behind JPC not suggesting any sort of changes, when there are so many objections from different groups of our society. Ignoring the objections of tribal groups is clearly not justified as ‘Forest’ for them isn’t just a commodity or a business; ‘Forest’ is sacred. It is a means of life and livelihood for many tribal communities who are devoted to their rituals and traditions with utmost respect towards ‘Forest’. The act also miserably fails to explain how certain lands are being identified as forests and certain lands are not considered to be forests as it is not possible to determine the factors that are being used here to differentiate between lands that have tree cover as ‘’forests’’ and ‘’non-forests’’ (or the right term that can be used for those lands that are not considered to be forests. In conclusion, the act is vague in nature as it leaves the readers in confusion.

Author: Sai Jahnavi Thota, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to chhavi@khuranaandkhurana.com or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.

[1] T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad v. Union of India and Ors., (1997) 2 SCC 267.

[2] T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad v. Union of India and Ors., (1997) 2 SCC 267.

[3] INDIASPEND, https://www.indiaspend.com/earthcheckindia/forest-law-amendment-will-make-it-easier-to-divert-28-of-indias-forest-cover-872329, (last visited on Nov. 29).

[4] THE HINDU, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/explained-what-will-the-amended-forest-conservation-act-change/article67146543.ece (last visited on Nov. 29).

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