The recent amendments proposed by Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and
Climate Change (MoEFCC) to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 is set to bring
about significant changes in the governance of forest in India.
This act aims to liberalise forest laws so that natural resources in the forest
can be explored and exploited. This is done through facilitating private
plantations for harvest action and exploration of oil and natural gas from
beneath the forest land by drilling holes outside the forest area.
The proposal also aims to empower the state government to lease forest land to
private individuals and corporations. If the proposed amendments come into force
then it will dilute the provisions set out Supreme Court in 1996, TN Godavarman
Thirumulpad versus Union of India and Others case. This case defined forest as
all those areas that were recorded as a forest on in area irrespective of
ownership, recognition and classification.
Need for this Amendment
The definition of a forest has left the identification of forest arbitrary and
subjective to a certain extent and this caused a lot of resentment among private
individuals and organisations. This is primarily because, given the definition
of a forest, an individual will be prohibited from carrying out any non-forestry
activity in his land if considered a forest. The implication can be seen in the
rise in the tendency to keep private lands void of any vegetation even if there
is scope for one.
Secondly, due to the considerable changes in ecological, social and
environmental regimes in the country in the last few years, there has been a
change in the ecological and economic needs. The present circumstances have
specially bought about the need for the integration of conversation and
development into this act. This has been one of the driving forces behind the
Thirdly, to achieve India's Climate target or National Determined Contribution
it was essential to practice plantation at all areas outside government forest.
The proposal aims to grant exemption to railways, roads, tree plantations, oil
exploration, wildlife tourism and 'strategic' projects in forests. Secondly, the
proposal aims to empower the state government The amendment also seeks to
complete the process of forest identification in a time-bound manner. This
proposal also seeks to create a "no-go" area where the specific project would
not be allowed.
Highlights of this Proposal
The main highlights of this proposal are:
Exemptions under this Act
- Defining forest:
The area that was deemed to be forest in 1996 will continue to be forest
however the land acquired by the railway before 1980 will no longer be
considered to be a forest.
- Strategic Project:
The forest land needed for strategic and security projects of national
approval should be exempted from the requirement of needing prior approval
from the central government. This will enable the government to complete the
strategic project on time.
- Oil and Natural Gas extraction:
This will facilitate new technology such as Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) to
extract oil, natural gases, and other resources of the forest from outside
the forest area by drilling holes. This is an environmentally friendly
method of extraction of resources and should be kept
- Building in Forest:
This proposal allows the private owners of land whose land is deemed to be
forest to construct structure bonafide purposes including building
residential units and forest protection measures with up to one-time
relaxation of 250sq meters. This proposal is intended to ease the grievance
of those individuals whose property fall within the specific definition of
- A lease on forest land:
Section 2(iii) of this act requires the prior approval of the central
government before issuing a lease of land to a private
individual/corporation not owned or controlled by the government.
- "No-go" areas:
The proposal inserts section 2B which allows the central government to
delineate the certain area where non-forest areas will be prohibited for a
fixed time. The delineation would be based on pre-fixed criteria
- The land that was acquired by the railways before 25th October, 1980 or
the day on which the Forest Conservation Act was passed would be exempted
from seeking a forest clearance. This is included in section 1A of the
- However, the exception under this section is subjected to the terms and
conditions that the central government will compensate for the lost forest
coverage by practising afforestation in different areas.
- Section 2 proposes to exempt plantation on palm and oil-bearing trees
from the definition of "non-forest"
- However, since the Forest conversation act applies to the conversion of
forest land to "non-forest" land, this would mean that anyone who wants to
clear land for the plantation of such trees would not require the prior
approval of the government
WILDLIFE TOURISM, TRAINING INFRASTRUCTURE
What are the issue and concerns?
- The Act classifies activities related to wild preservation as
non-forestry purposes- which implies that building checkpoints,
communication infrastructure, fencing, boundary, etc do not need a forest
- The proposed amendments claim to add to the list "forest and wildlife
training infrastructure" and the "establishment of zoos and safaris" which
are governed under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
The main concern regarding the proposal centres around the dilution of the
definition of forest as proposed by the Supreme Court in the landmark Godavarman
case. Although this case was initially started as a petition to curb the felling
of the trees in Nilgiri hills, it ended up expanding the coverage of the Forest
Conservation Act, 1980.
The proposed amendment allegedly seek to reduce the scope of the judgement by
only limiting it to such land that has been:
Forest Conservation Act, 1980
- Declared as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927
- Recorded as a forest land before 25th October 1980. However, there is
the exemption for land that has been changed from forest to non-forest
purpose before 12th December 1996
- Identified as "forest" by an expert committee set up by the state
government within one year of the proposal of such amendment
Forest Conservation Act, 1980 is the legislation that regulates deforestation in
our country. This legislation prohibits the felling of any forest area for
"non-forest" use without prior permission of the central government. The
clearance process involves seeking permission from local forest authorities or
wildlife authorities. Under this act, the centre is eligible to reject a request
or allow it with legally binding conditions.
How did this Act overrule the SC judgement?
The Supreme court in the Godavarman Case 1996
held that forest would not
only cover the statutorily recognised forest under this act. It would recognise
any area recorded in government record regardless of the ownership. The
restriction in the Forest Conservation Act would be applicable be to both de
facto and dejure.
The proposed amendments purposely seek to reduce the scope of this judgement by
limiting the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act, in the following
Declared or notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927
Recorded as forest land prior to 25th October, with exception to such land if
the land as been changed to non-forest.
Identified as "forest" by state government expert committee upto one year from
the date of amendment.
The judgement interpreted the act as it stood then.This addition of specific
judgement further limited the judgement. De jure forest are therefore excluded
from the purview of the Forest Conservation Act
According to India State Report, 2019 the total forest cover in India is about
24.56%percent of the total geographical area of the country. According to the
National Forest Policy of India, 1988 India envisages a goal to cover 33% of th
geographical area under forest cover. The 42nd amendment in 1976, included
article 48-A which vest the responsibility upon the state to look after the
natural resources of the country under the directive principle of state policy.
Article 51-G makes it a fundamental duty of the citizen to take care of his/her
surrounding environment. This amendment also transferred the Protection of
Forest and wildlife from concurrent list to state list
The proposed legislation aims to improve the forest cover of India and use the
natural resources the forest has to offer while not trying to practice
deforestation. The amendment takes a problematic turn when private individuals
are considered. To avoid such a deadlock the government needs to come into an
agreement with all the stakeholders and reach a consensus.