A Death Knell for the Forest Act

First published on June 02, 2023

By Prakriti Srivastava and Prerna Singh Bindra

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 (Bill No. 80 of 2023) was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 29, 2023. The Bill amends the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, a succinct, clear, self-contained law which provides for conservation of forest land, is aimed at checking deforestation and restricting and preventing the diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose without approval of the Central government. 

The Bill has been referred to a Joint Committee of the Parliament (JPC) for examination, which is expected to give its report in July 2023. The JPC had invited comments/suggestions on the proposed amendment on May 3, giving 15 days’ time for submissions.

Prakriti Srivastava (Indian Forest Service and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Kerala) and I (Prerna Bindra) jointly co-authored a commentary on the Bill, which was submitted to the JPC.

The changes proposed in the original FCA are deeply problematic, fundamental and sweeping, and change the nature and characteristics of the Act. The commentary provides a detailed clause-by-clause analysis, but to provide a brief snapshot of the proposed Bill: 

  1. Limits the scope and ambit of the existing Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, removing crucial safeguards from a vast majority of India's biodiverse forests, thereby opening the floodgates for diversion for other uses.
  2. Undoes many provisions safeguarding forests in the existing Forest (Conservation) Act
  3. Dilutes the 202/1996 Supreme Court’s Godavarman judgement, and overturns its conservation gains. 
  4. Facilitates privatisation of forests to ‘create’ forests, and plantations.   
  5. Shifts focus from conservation of forests to increasing plantation cover. 
  6. Primarily, in limiting the scope and ambit of the original Forest (Conservation) Act, the proposed Bill reduces and restricts its ambit and purview in the guise of creating plantations and achieving carbon neutrality by converting large forest tracts to other land uses, removing crucial safeguards from a vast majority of India's biodiversity rich forests. 

Bluntly put, in its present form, the Bill will be a death knell for India's forests.

We stress that the present Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 along with the judgement in the Supreme Court order in WP 202/96 is a strong piece of legislation and requires no amendment, but needs better and effective implementation.

Our commentary is briefly explained in a Twitter thread here

We also wrote a clarification to reiterate that the proposed FCA Bill dilutes the Supreme Court 2002 Godavarman judgement: "If passed, only those forests recorded on or after 25th October, 1980 will continue to get protection under the FC Act leaving out large tracts of forests not included in any records. The amended FCA, if adopted, will have systematically and legally removed these forests from legal protection.

This is briefly explained in a Twitter thread here.

Be sure to go through the detailed Commentary and Clarification attached here. 

Prakriti Srivastava of the Indian Forest Service is the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Kerala, and Prerna Singh Bindra is a wildlife conservationist, author and Ph.D. scholar at Cambridge. 

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