Govt proposes amendment to Forest Act for accelerated integration of 'conservation and development'
By IANS | Published: October 4, 2021 07:42 PM2021-10-04T19:42:05+5:302021-10-04T20:05:29+5:30
New Delhi, Oct 4 Land held by any agency, originally acquired for non-forest purposes before October 1980, will ...
New Delhi, Oct 4 Land held by any agency, originally acquired for non-forest purposes before October 1980, will be exempted from seeking any approval under the Forest Act 1980 for linear infrastructure projects - such as railway line or a road - as per a proposed amendment to the Act.
"A landholding agency (Railways, NHAI, PWD etc.) is required to take approval under the Act as well as pay stipulated compensatory levies such as net present value (NPV), compensatory afforestation (CA) etc. for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes. The Environment Ministry is considering now to exempt such lands acquired before 25.10.1980 from the purview of the Act," said a consultation paper on the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
The consultation paper has been posted online for inviting comments/suggestions on the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 within 15 days. Although the paper was posted online on Monday, it is dated October 2, thus effectively leaving just 13 days for comments/suggestions.
"During the intervening period of 40 years, there has been considerable change in the ecological, social and environmental regimes in the country. Efforts have been made during the intervening period to keep the provisions of the Act in tandem with the dynamic changes in the ecological and economic needs of our country by introducing appropriate legislations in the form of rules and guidelines. Yet, to effectively fit into the present circumstances, particularly for accelerated integration of conservation and development, it has become necessary to further amend the Act," according to the Assistant IG (Forests) in Ministry, Sandeep Sharma.
Sharma has written to all additional chief secretaries (forest)/principal secretaries (forests), all states/ UTs, principal chief conservators and regional officers of all integrated regional offices of the Ministry apart from "all concerned".
The proposed amendments include whether projects related to the development of infrastructure along the international border areas, which should be exempted from obtaining prior approval of the Central government under the provision of the Act and allow the states to permit non-forest use of forest land for implementation of such strategic and security projects that are to be completed in a given time frame.
One of the proposed amendments also said that offences under Section 2 of the Forest Act, 1980 are now proposed to be made punishable with simple imprisonment for a period, which may extend to one year and the offence shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
"There is no clarity whether this is only for state and UT governments or also for public comments," said Vikrant Tongad, environment conservationist and founder member, Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE), who was instrumental in getting the Ministry to agree to translate the draft of a similar proposed amendment to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Act to translate the draft in 22 official languages.
"If it is for public comments, then this needs to be put out in all regional languages. There needs to be widespread publicity for the material to reach a large number of people, the real stakeholders," Tongad said, adding, "If not, the basic question is, why it is not opened for public consultation?"
Tongad's petition about the draft EIA Act is still pending in the Delhi High Court.
However, founder of Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) and environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta termed it as a "good step" that the Ministry has at least asked for views at the pre-legislative stage, rather than presenting with a draft law.
"They are asking for comments on essential ideas," he said.
Stating that some of the ideas (in the consultation paper) are indeed problematic, Dutta said, "But the Ministry, technically, has not formed its opinion. There are serious issues of concern. On the face of it, basically, it is talking about how to facilitate diversion. There is no talk of conservation."
Earlier, owing to the pressure from the other ministries, the Environment Ministry used to bring out office memorandum. Now at least it is issuing a consultation paper before bringing in the amendment.
"That means, we are hoping, there would be at least three steps of consultation. The pre-legislative stage, the draft act, and the Bill in the Parliament," Dutta said, adding, "Then, it can also go to a select committee of the Parliament and then for MPs to raise objections."
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