Several amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (FCA) have been proposed by The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change which could easily enable more infrastructure projects to come up in the forest areas.
The documents containing draft amendments to the FCA reportedly shared with the Union Cabinet in March 2021 have not yet been made public, reported Down to Earth.
The document proposes to grant "exemptions to railways, roads, tree plantations, oil exploration, wildlife tourism and 'strategic' projects in forests."Hence this proposal coming into force would mean a dilution of the forest conservation coming under the FCA Act.
The FCA is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for the conservation of forests within India and related matters. Though only areas specifically notified as forests were protected under the FCA Act earlier, the Supreme Court in 1996 had expanded the coverage of FCA to all areas that satisfied the dictionary definition of a forest.
Under the act, it is prohibited to clear forest areas for any "non-forestry" use without prior clearance granted by the central government.
The proposal makes additions and changes to a couple of important sections in the FCA Act that deal with the extent of coverage of the law and the restrictions of activities in forest areas.
The changes made suggested that underground exploration, production of oil and natural gas through Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) and surveys, reconnaissance, prospecting, exploration or investigation" for future activity in the forest will be not be considered as a "non-forestry activity" and hence does not need any prior concession from the government except if the activity falls within a wildlife sanctuary, national park or tiger reserve.
Land acquired for construction of railways or roads by a government agency before 25.10.1980 will also be exempted from requiring a forest clearance and a new explanation to Section 2 proposes to exempt plantation of native species of palm and oil-bearing trees from the category of "non-forest purpose".
The clause suggesting that central government's approval is mandatory before assigning forest lands on lease to any private person, corporation or any organization not owned or controlled by the central government has been deleted from the proposed document giving the state governments the right to issue leases for the use of forest land without the Centre's approval.
The removal of the requirement of the concession of the central government is an obvious move by the centre itself to dilute restrictions on forest land use. This would empower state governments to lease forest land to corporations and private individuals.
Though the authors have sent a questionnaire to the Union environment ministry demanding responses on the need for the proposed amendments, they have not yet received any response, reported Down To Earth.