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An Analysis Of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 And Challenges In Its Application In India

The word forest defined literally by oxford dictionary means "A sizable area primarily covered in trees and vegetation". Forests are necessary for survival of living organisms is a well-known fact. The main function of the forest is to create oxygen as a by-product through the process of photosynthesis as well as absorbing carbon-di-CO2) which is one of the most pertinent pollutants in the atmosphere.

Forests also help in the prevention of soil erosion and soil pollution along with providing us with different forest products that are essential to our living. So, to sum up, without forests our eco-system will cave in and that is why forest conversation is necessary and this issue should be given utmost importance. For this purpose, Indian parliament made a law titled "Forest Conservation Act,1980".

The act's purpose, according to its provisions, is to address matters related to, incidental to, or connected to the conservation of forests. But recent trends suggest that people, be it public or authorities concerned as well as the government have been ignorant towards forest conservation.

The law seems to exist only on the paper and not on the ground. Therefore, an analysis of the mentioned act and finding out about the different obstacle that hinder smooth application of the act becomes as necessary as forest conservation.

Historical Background
As human society progressed, their needs and wants in order to survive and prosper also increased leading to more dependence on forest resources. On British arrival in India, British rulers started trading goods and realized that India has huge amount of forest resources which would be profitable for them. Hence, when they gradually settled here, they started taking control over forests and its resources.

Their needs dictated their policies. And that is when forest management first emerged as British rulers utilized forest goods such as timber for the purpose of expansion of roads, railways, ship-building etc., they wanted more control over it. The then British government for the first time enacted Indian Forest Act 1865 which specified any area that is covered by tree as "Forest".

Later Indian Forest Act,1927 was passed by British government as a combined effort to control and manage forests but the problem with the act was that it contained provisions related to declaring a forest as "Reserved Forest", "Protected Forest" and "Village Forest", regulation of forests and its products, revenue generation and fines and punishment in case of breach of these laws. It ignored the most crucial point of maintaining a forest i.e forest conservation.

When the perspective of people and authorities changed and they realized that maintaining stability between nature and their needs is essential, the Forest (Conservation) Act,1980 was passed by the Indian parliament with preservation of Indian forests and discouraging deforestation as its raison d'etre.

The Forest (Conservation) Act was passed by Indian Parliament in the year 1980. The objective of the act is to look into the matters related to conservation of forest and balancing the ecology.

The act also intends to promote afforestation and other objectives that are as following:
  1. Preservation of forests along with its Flaura and Fauna and maintaining the real identity of the forest.
  2. Discouraging deforestation that leads to problems such as soil erosion further leading to land deterioration.
  3. Stabilizing Forest biodiversity.
  4. Prevention of conversion of forest areas into non-forest areas.

Predominant Sections
Section 1
Section 1 of the act deals with its title and scope. It states that, with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, the act is applicable throughout all of India. It is known that even after article 370 was revoked from the state of Jammu & Kashmir making all laws of India applicable there, Forest (Conservation) Act is not a part of the laws being applied in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Section 2
Section 2 of the act puts restriction on the state governments and other authorities, preventing them to make laws on the matters such as revoking of the legal status of being a forest given to a land, using of forest land for non-forest purposes, giving forest land or any part of it on leasehold to any non-governmental entity.

Section 3
Section 3 deals with the setting up of an Advisory Committee to grant approval to matters stated in section 2 of the act if needed or any matter related to conservation of forests.

Section 3A & 3B
Section 3A and 3B was added later in 1988 through an amendment. 3A deals with the punishments for whoever breaches the law or abets breaching of these laws which is simple imprisonment of a stated term and that can be extended up to 15 days. While 3B deals with the offences committed by government offices and other authorities.

It states that any government entity shall be held liable if they violate the law however, if the entity is able to prove that the offence was committed without its knowledge or the entity performed due care and caution to prevent the happening of the offence, it will not be held guilty. The other non-governmental entities do not enjoy this privilege.

Section 4
Section 4 deals with the rule-making powers. According to it, the central government has the authority to implement the laws outlined in the act after publishing a notice of them in the official gazette. This section authorizes parliament to perform medication or form any rule under the act.

Section 5
Section 5 of the act deals with the repeal of Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980.

Amendments And Its Criticism
The Forest (Conservation) Act,1980 have been amended thrice since it got enacted. The first amendment was made in the year 1988 where the definition of non-forest purposes was expanded to include tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing plants,horticultural crops and medicinal plants.

Second amendment was made in the year 1996 on the basis of Supreme Court judgement in the Godavarman Thirumulpad versus Union of India case where the word Forest was expanded to include:
  • All areas mentioned as "Forest" in any government record.
  • All areas that come under dictionary meaning of the word forest.
  • All areas that are defined as forest by an expert committee of the Supreme Court of India.
Third and the most recent amendment happened in 2021, put forward by ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

The amendment made the following changes in the act:
  • That the deemed forests listed by state governments prior to 1996 will still be regarded as forest land.
  • The plantations done alongside roads will no longer be considered as forests.
  • It prevents a specific group of infrastructure project developers from asking the Center for permission to use forest land for purposes other than forestry. The projects include those related to national security, border infrastructure, and land that the Ministry of Road Transport or the Railways purchased before 1980.
  • Additionally, it will impose strict guidelines for the preservation of forests by toughening penalties for violations and maintaining "pristine forests" in which no non-forestry activity will ever be permitted.
Now the recent amendments attracted few criticisms. one of them was related to changes made in the definition of forest. By establishing a list of exceptions to the Act, it seemed to imply what does not constitute a forest. These exceptions included forests in border regions where strategic projects must be built, private property where plantations must be established, and forest land that was purchased for the construction of railroads and highways before 1980.

Second more emphasis is placed on developing supportive regulatory frameworks for establishing plantations. It contends that the FCA's provisions won't apply to these plantations. However, it does not specify what these plantations should be like or where they can be located.

Third rather than controlling deforestation, these exceptions facilitate it. The amendments aim to de-regulate some decisions that result in deforestation, such as the use of extended oil drilling for gas and oil extraction. which the ministry asserts meets the requirements for a legal exception because it is environmentally friendly.

However, there aren't enough ecological studies to back this up. Fourth the Gram Sabha's approval is a necessary step in the forest clearance process. The cancellation of the application of this progressive legal provision directly results from the creation of exceptions to the requirement of forest clearances. Therefore, examining the deregulatory strategy used to change India's environmental laws is necessary.

Challenges In Its Application In India

Numerous rivers and lakes continue to be overflowing with industrial waste and sewage in spite of numerous environmental laws and Acts. The state of the air is deteriorating daily. Despite the implementation of various laws, there hasn't been any afforestation or wildlife protection. To solve these issues, people must be reminded of the value of protecting our health, the earth's resources, and the environment as a whole.

The proper implementation of environmental legislation is necessary to improve the situation. This can be done by setting up a pertinent organization that gathers the necessary data, processes it, and then gives it to the law enforcement organization. Anybody who violates a law or rule, whether they are an individual or an organization, must be punished in accordance with the legal process.

The government has implemented a number of legislative and administrative measures. In addition to this, other initiatives have been made to split the cost of an industry-taken anti-pollution measure in order to avoid state-sponsored costly and protracted legal battles, or we can say that it is done so that every citizen must consider the environment before playing with it and must take care of it.

However, the improper implementation of policies is the reason why we are unable to accomplish these goals. It is challenging for the enforcement agencies to impose regulatory standards on the businesses and other polluters.

The Followings Are Some Of The Issues That The Enforcement Agencies Encounter:
  • Regulatory agencies are understaffed compared to how quickly industries are growing.
  • Lack of the technical expertise needed to enforce the rules.
  • A rising level of corruption.
  • Financial resources are insufficient.
  • lack of a committed workforce.
  • Defiance of the new.

The act includes a number of provisions that aim to reduce deforestation and promote reforestation of non-forested areas. According to the National Forest Policy of 1980, no area of a state may be designated as a non-reserve without prior approval from the Central Government.

The 1988 amendment to the act made it illegal for anyone other than the government to lease the forest. This government action contributes to an average 30% increase in forest cover.

But even after this the followings are acting as a major hindrance in smooth application of this act:
  • The act has centralized power at the top by transferring power from the hands of the state to the central government
  • Because it violates the human rights of underprivileged native people, the act also fails to win public support.
  • The poor community's extremely low participation makes this act ineffective.
  • Tribal groups and people who live in forests have extensive knowledge of the resources found there, but their work is never recognized.

Indian Judicial View
By considering various Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution. Additionally, the judiciary has made a significant contribution to protecting our environment and the forests. While considering the PILs, the Supreme Court and the High Courts issued a number of significant rulings regarding the preservation of the environment and forests.

Tarun Bharat Singh v/s Union Of India (1993)

In this case, a non-profit organization approached the Supreme Court through a PIL submitted in accordance with Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The petition was filed to stop the illegal mining that was taking place in the Alwar District's reserved area. The state government had issued hundreds of mining licenses despite the fact that the area was protected by the Act. The Court ruled that whenever a region is designated as a protected forest, the Forest (Conservation) Act applies, and as a result, the State government is no longer permitted to conduct any non-forest activity within the reserved region without first obtaining permission from the Central government.

State Of MP v/s Krishnadas Tikaram (1994)

In this instance, a 20-year mining lease for limestone in the forest area was granted to the respondents in the year 1966. Following its expiration in 1986, the respondents requested a renewal from the State government. The state legislature approved the decision to extend the lease by another 20 years. This order was canceled by the Forest Department. The Supreme Court of India heard a challenge to this cancellation. The Court determined that the state cannot issue or renew the license in accordance with Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act without the Central government's prior approval. As a result, the order cancellation was done correctly.

Krishnadevi Malchand Kamathia v/s Bombay Environmental Action (2011)

In this case, to begin the contempt procedure against the appellants for failing to obey the court's orders, the District Collector submitted an application. The newly built bund was to be removed in accordance with court orders so that seawater could enter and safeguard the mangrove forests. The order made an effort to stop the appellants from engaging in any behavior that would endanger the mangrove forests. The appellants are authorized to produce salt at the location.

The mangrove forests in the area prevent the solar evaporation of seawater for the purpose of producing salt, according to the Supreme Court. The mangrove forests fall under the category of CRZ-I because of their high ecological value and ecological sensitivity (Coastal Regulatory Zone-I). The production of salt is forbidden, per the Coastal Area Classification and Development Regulations, 1991, which classifies the coastal regulatory zone.

In order to maintain the ecological balance, forests are crucial to the health of our ecosystem. Deforestation, however, is occurring at a startling rate across the nation, which is harming our environment and causing ecological imbalances. By reducing the rate of deforestation, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 aims to protect the forests. On October 25, 1980, the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 went into effect. In order to safeguard our nation's forests, this Act was put into effect.

The maintenance of the earth's water cycle and entire ecosystem depends on forests, which are an essential component of our natural environment. This law was put into effect to protect our nation's forests and to preserve the ecology. Additionally, this Act aims to boost the growth of our nation's forests by regenerating the forests through tree planting.

In order to keep our land productive and nourishing for future generations, we must ensure that the conservation of the forest is given the utmost attention and effort. If deforestation continues at the same rate, many of the common species of life will soon become extinct. In addition to this, scarce resources like wood, oxygen, and others will disappear very quickly.

Therefore, "saving the forests" ought to be a very popular concept and a marketing idea right now. For the Forest Conservation Act to operate effectively, all parties involved, including the government, forest authorities, and general public, must cooperate.

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