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Proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act are a bad idea

created Oct 16th, 06:17 by Tanya Sawlani



395 words
203 completed
Forests are difficult geographies to regulate as they must meet the competing regulatory requirements of conservation, development, and recognition of forest rights. On October 2, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a letter documenting 14 aspects that it seeks to change in the key forest legislation, the Forest Conservation Act,1980. This law has been instrumental in reducing deforestation as it requires approval from the central government when forests have to be diverted for non-forestry purposes. The regulatory mechanism of forest clearances allows the ministry to deliberate on whether deforestation should be permitted or not and what the conditions should be if such a permit is granted. An essential part of the forest clearance process is the requirement that forest rights be recognised and the consent of the gram sabha be obtained. The set of issues that the ministry seeks to use as the basis for changing the law are mostly in the direction of deregulation. They show some intent of giving the law more teeth, like the identification of forest areas which are to be maintained as pristine areas for a prescribed period of time. The amendments proposed to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 cannot be seen in isolation of these other attempts to remake environmental laws in India. Environmental law has emerged as a space for the Modi government to reengineer the governance architecture to make it more conducive for doing business. The ease of doing business has signified a pathway towards deregulation. Deregulation in this context refers to undoing environmental safeguards and remaking laws in ways that constrain their ability to scrutinise anti-environmental decisions taken by the ministry. The proposed amendments to the FCA, when seen in this light, work to restrict the scope of applicability of the Act. It does so by critiquing the current definition of forests, which includes land recognised as forest by the government as well as that which comes under the dictionary meaning of forest land based on the Supreme Court decision in the T N Godavarman case. It aims to implicitly define what does not constitute forests by creating a set of exceptions to the Act. These exceptions include forests in border areas where strategic projects need to be built, private land where plantations are to be established, and forest land which was acquired before 1980 for the construction of railways and highways.

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