The north-east region of the country has raised concerns over the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 (FCAB) which was introduced in Lok Sabha in March and was referred to a select committee of the Parliament.
Certain provisions of the Bill which seek to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 are going to adversely affect the North-eastern states the most and will remove the protective cover these regions have under the Act. As per the provisions proposed under the Bill, many categories of land in the highly sensitive states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur will lose their protective cover as the stringent regulations that were protecting these areas from commercial abuse could get diluted once the Bill is passed.
The amendment reads:
(2) The following categories of land shall not be covered under the provisions of this Act, namely:—
(c) such forest land,— (i) as is situated within a distance of one hundred kilometres along international borders or Line of Control or Line of Actual Control, as the case may be, proposed to be used for construction of strategic linear project of national importance and concerning national security;
The map shows that almost the entirety of the North-Eastern region falls with the 100 km buffer required under the Act. Amba Jamir, a Guwahati based independent policy analyst was quoted in Morung Express as saying, “the Eastern Himalayan region or India’s north eastern region is a biodiversity hotspot. It is a region that hosts so many endemic floral and faunal species. To say that in the name of development or security, the region is kept out of the purview of the Forest Conservation Act would be disastrous.”
Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland come under this category since they are surrounded by foreign countries, Mizoram by Myanmar and Bangladesh on both the eastern and western borders respectively, Tripura surrounded by Bangladesh on all sides except a portion of linking it with Assam, and Nagaland with Myanmar. 100 kms from the international boundary covers the entire area of these states, analysed Highland Post. Further, even Meghalaya is flanked by Bangladesh in the south and Manipur is flanked by Myanmar. Arunachal Pradesh shares a boundary with Tibet.
Unreserved/unclassified forests in NE
The Bill protects only those forests which are Reserved Forests and Protected Forests notified under the Indian Forest Act 1927 and leaves out unnotified forests. The north eastern states however, are composed mainly of such unclassified forests which were essentially protected by the Supreme Court in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India and others (1997) 2 SCC 267 (dated December 12, 1996 judgement. The bill dilutes the provisions of ‘deemed forest’ as described in the Godavarman case, where any land which is recorded as forest in government records requires ‘Forest Clearance’. As per the bill, only those lands which are recorded as forests on or after October 25, 1980 will be considered as requiring forest clearance. This case defined forest as all those areas that resemble the dictionary meaning of forest.
It is interesting to note that through the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India and others (1997) 2 SCC 267 (dated December 12, 1996) case, the Supreme Court held that all areas which are ‘recorded’ as forests in the Government records require ‘Forest Clearance’. The Bill clearly aims to dilute this judgment since, the preamble of the Bill notes,
“Subsequent to the said Judgment, the provisions of the Act were applied in the recorded forest areas including such recorded forests which had already been put to various types of non-forestry use, thereby restraining the authorities from undertaking any change in the land use and allowing any development or utility related work. Besides this, apprehensions prevailed regarding applicability of the Act in the plantations raised in private and Government non-forest lands. This situation resulted in misinterpretation of the provisions of the Act with respect to their applicability especially in recorded forest lands, private forest lands, plantations, etc. Therefore, it is considered necessary to prescribe the extent of applicability and non applicability of the Act in various types of lands.”
An article by Highland Post notes that people from the North-Eastern regions and the tribal communities are protesting the implementation of certain projects in the region. Even with the strict requirements under the 1980 Act, people were not able to share their concerns with the Central Government. Now, if the Bill is cleared, the Government can easily allow the implementation of these projects and there will be no law protecting their rights.
Statement of CPIM to JPCC
In 2006, the Forest Rights Act was passed protecting the right to ownership of land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers to a maximum of 4 hectares. In the 2023 Amendment Bill, this Act finds no mention leaving the tribals in a lot of fear and anxiety.
East Mojo shared a memorandum signed by the frontal wing of CPIM, Tripura Upajati Ganamukti Parishad submitted to the Joint Parliamentary Committee Chairperson Rajendra Agarwal highlighting the problems under the said Bill. It states that the Forest Rights Act, 2006 which is most important for the survival of tribals finds no mention in the Bill and shifts powers from the hands of the tribals to that of “crony capitalists”. It further notes that tribals are the most backward sections of the country and have always been living in the forest areas and “one of their major problems is land alienation”.
It states, “any dilution of FRA-2006 is unacceptable to the tribals. We are aware of the danger of global warming and the necessity of forest conservation, forestation, ecological balance, etc and we are not against the implementation of development projects in tribal areas. But we are opposed to the privatisation of forest land and resources for monopoly capitalists.”
It further raises the demand, “Before implementing any developmental project in the forest areas, obtaining the consent of the gram sabhas of concerned areas is made mandatory. Proper rehabilitation and compensation should be done for the forest dwellers where eviction is unavoidable before project implementation starts. Before implementing any developmental project in the forest areas, obtaining the consent of the gram sabhas of concerned areas is made mandatory. Proper rehabilitation and compensation should be done for the forest dwellers where eviction is unavoidable before project implementation starts.”
A detailed analysis of the Bill may be read here.
The proposed Bill may be read here: