Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Farm and Forest

New Forest Conservation Rules: A fresh controversy

History of institutionalisation of the environmental discourse in India

Tejendra Pratap Gautam 27 Jul 2022

 Forest Conservation Rules
Representation Image

In India, the environment as an issue emerged between the 1970s and 1980s (Guha 2016). It came in notice after the United Nations conference on the Environment, Stockholm in 1972, in which the participant countries adopted 26 principles as a Stockholm declaration; it gave space to initiate a dialogue between developed and developing countries (United Nations 1973).

Subsequently, in India, it laid out the formation of the national council for environmental policy and planning within the department of science and technology in 1972[1]. At an international level, environmental and climate issues have grown in a more sprucely manner. The two international conferences— one at Stockholm in 1972 on the environment and second at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 on development— have significantly influenced the environmental policies of several countries, including India (Sankar 2016).

In order to extend the Union government’s control over forests[2], the forest as a subject was moved to the concurrent list after the 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution of 1976[3]. After that environmental concern was included in the Directive Principle of State policy and Fundamental Rights and Duties: The State shall venture to protect and improve the environment and secure the forests, flora, and fauna of the country[4]. It was indeed a remarkable amendment in India's environmental legislative history, but it was enacted in times of emergency when the democratic norms were challenged and the constitutional institutions emasculated. Later in 1985, the national council was transformed into an apex union administrative, a regulatory body to ensure environmental protection and regulation, aka Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). It was further renamed Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2014.

India’s forest cover

According to the State of the World's Forests (SOFO) report, released May 2, 2022, the world has lost approximately 10.34 per cent of total forest area in the last 30 years due to deforestation or degradation of forests — which is an estimated 420 million hectares[5]. The Global Forest Resources Assessment Remote Sensing Survey (FRA 2020 RSS), published May 3, 2022, by the United Nations, claims the loss of tropical forests the size of Europe in the last two decades[6]. On the contrary, India's forests and tree cover have risen by 2,261 square kilometers (sq km), according to India's State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021[7].

Environmentalists and conservationists have shown resentment against the Forest Survey of India (FSI) for identifying plantations and tea gardens as forests, which is an ambiguous claim[8], as it is contributing factor in the growth of forest cover in India. Five states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Karnataka, and Jharkhand – have a more significant contribution in forest cover of 1,540 sq. km. However, this increase in forest covers heavily relies on plantation and agroforestry. A recent report published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) argues that India's mountainous states, including the Himalayan region, have increased forest loss due to climate change[9]. Thus, climate change, deforestation, and forest degradation have emerged as common denominator of cause for forest loss globally and locally.

Arbitrary changes in environmental laws

On one side, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) has produced controversial and ambiguous forest survey reports to deceive the actual situation of forest cover in India. Simultaneously, it changed some environmental laws during the pandemic, such as the Environment Impact Assessment notification, 2006 and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (69 of 1980), during the most vulnerable times of human history. It shows in public eyes that apex environment regulatory body does not have an ounce of empathy for millions of forest dwellers’ well-being, as it can make them more vulnerable amidst pandemic, as it will directly influence their livelihood and forest rights.

Last year, on March 12, 2020, the MoEFCC published a new draft of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 (Kapoor and Dinesh 2021). It has created a lot of buzz among civil society organisations, conservationists, environmentalists, and forest dwellers. It has reduced the period allotted for public hearings and has suggested extra time to submit a compliance report, and the project can be regularized through post-facto clearance. However, the new changes in EIA have further ignited the debate between environment and development, as the current government continues shouting in favour of easing the norms and has rendered 'Ease of doing Business' (Jamir 2021).

As per new regulations of the Forest (Conservation) Rules 2022, the central government may allow the forest clearance without prior informing the inhabitants, which will directly impact the tribals' forest rights, their livelihood, and the ecology of forests[10]. These rules may exert unnecessary pressure on state governments to secure consent on behalf of union

Conclusion

The arbitrary changes in Forest Conservation rules 2003 create a direct challenge to the federal governance structure of country, as new regulations give the upper hand to the union government and the responsibility of forest clearance to state governments. That is against the ethos of federalism, as it puts tremendous pressure on the state governments to take consent from tribal and forest dwellers in case of forest land transfer. New FCA regulations do not mention the prior consent of Gram Sabha, and if Gram Sabha is approached after the final approval from the Union government, it will be irrelevant, and forest clearance will be fait accompli, Ministry of Tribal Affairs had argued[11]. It is explicit that MoEFCC has override the previous tribal-centric regulations, which implicitly projects that MoEFCC – a apex environmental body in country –holds no accountability against guardians of forests.

*Views expressed are the author’s own. The author is a P.hD scholar at ADCPS, IIT Bombay


References:

Guha, Ramchadra (2016): “Environmentalism: A Global History”, New Delhi: Penguin.

Sankar, U (2016): “Laws and Institutions Relating to Environmental Protection in India,” https://www.mse.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/op_sankar.pdf, viewed on 4 August 2021.

United Nations (1973): “Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 5-16 June 1972,” https://undocs.org/en/A/CONF.48/14/Rev.1, viewed on 3 August 2021.

 


[3] https://www.fao.org/3/am251e/am251e00.pdf   visited on 21 July, 2022.

 

New Forest Conservation Rules: A fresh controversy

History of institutionalisation of the environmental discourse in India

 Forest Conservation Rules
Representation Image

In India, the environment as an issue emerged between the 1970s and 1980s (Guha 2016). It came in notice after the United Nations conference on the Environment, Stockholm in 1972, in which the participant countries adopted 26 principles as a Stockholm declaration; it gave space to initiate a dialogue between developed and developing countries (United Nations 1973).

Subsequently, in India, it laid out the formation of the national council for environmental policy and planning within the department of science and technology in 1972[1]. At an international level, environmental and climate issues have grown in a more sprucely manner. The two international conferences— one at Stockholm in 1972 on the environment and second at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 on development— have significantly influenced the environmental policies of several countries, including India (Sankar 2016).

In order to extend the Union government’s control over forests[2], the forest as a subject was moved to the concurrent list after the 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution of 1976[3]. After that environmental concern was included in the Directive Principle of State policy and Fundamental Rights and Duties: The State shall venture to protect and improve the environment and secure the forests, flora, and fauna of the country[4]. It was indeed a remarkable amendment in India's environmental legislative history, but it was enacted in times of emergency when the democratic norms were challenged and the constitutional institutions emasculated. Later in 1985, the national council was transformed into an apex union administrative, a regulatory body to ensure environmental protection and regulation, aka Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). It was further renamed Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2014.

India’s forest cover

According to the State of the World's Forests (SOFO) report, released May 2, 2022, the world has lost approximately 10.34 per cent of total forest area in the last 30 years due to deforestation or degradation of forests — which is an estimated 420 million hectares[5]. The Global Forest Resources Assessment Remote Sensing Survey (FRA 2020 RSS), published May 3, 2022, by the United Nations, claims the loss of tropical forests the size of Europe in the last two decades[6]. On the contrary, India's forests and tree cover have risen by 2,261 square kilometers (sq km), according to India's State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021[7].

Environmentalists and conservationists have shown resentment against the Forest Survey of India (FSI) for identifying plantations and tea gardens as forests, which is an ambiguous claim[8], as it is contributing factor in the growth of forest cover in India. Five states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Karnataka, and Jharkhand – have a more significant contribution in forest cover of 1,540 sq. km. However, this increase in forest covers heavily relies on plantation and agroforestry. A recent report published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) argues that India's mountainous states, including the Himalayan region, have increased forest loss due to climate change[9]. Thus, climate change, deforestation, and forest degradation have emerged as common denominator of cause for forest loss globally and locally.

Arbitrary changes in environmental laws

On one side, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) has produced controversial and ambiguous forest survey reports to deceive the actual situation of forest cover in India. Simultaneously, it changed some environmental laws during the pandemic, such as the Environment Impact Assessment notification, 2006 and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (69 of 1980), during the most vulnerable times of human history. It shows in public eyes that apex environment regulatory body does not have an ounce of empathy for millions of forest dwellers’ well-being, as it can make them more vulnerable amidst pandemic, as it will directly influence their livelihood and forest rights.

Last year, on March 12, 2020, the MoEFCC published a new draft of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 (Kapoor and Dinesh 2021). It has created a lot of buzz among civil society organisations, conservationists, environmentalists, and forest dwellers. It has reduced the period allotted for public hearings and has suggested extra time to submit a compliance report, and the project can be regularized through post-facto clearance. However, the new changes in EIA have further ignited the debate between environment and development, as the current government continues shouting in favour of easing the norms and has rendered 'Ease of doing Business' (Jamir 2021).

As per new regulations of the Forest (Conservation) Rules 2022, the central government may allow the forest clearance without prior informing the inhabitants, which will directly impact the tribals' forest rights, their livelihood, and the ecology of forests[10]. These rules may exert unnecessary pressure on state governments to secure consent on behalf of union

Conclusion

The arbitrary changes in Forest Conservation rules 2003 create a direct challenge to the federal governance structure of country, as new regulations give the upper hand to the union government and the responsibility of forest clearance to state governments. That is against the ethos of federalism, as it puts tremendous pressure on the state governments to take consent from tribal and forest dwellers in case of forest land transfer. New FCA regulations do not mention the prior consent of Gram Sabha, and if Gram Sabha is approached after the final approval from the Union government, it will be irrelevant, and forest clearance will be fait accompli, Ministry of Tribal Affairs had argued[11]. It is explicit that MoEFCC has override the previous tribal-centric regulations, which implicitly projects that MoEFCC – a apex environmental body in country –holds no accountability against guardians of forests.

*Views expressed are the author’s own. The author is a P.hD scholar at ADCPS, IIT Bombay


References:

Guha, Ramchadra (2016): “Environmentalism: A Global History”, New Delhi: Penguin.

Sankar, U (2016): “Laws and Institutions Relating to Environmental Protection in India,” https://www.mse.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/op_sankar.pdf, viewed on 4 August 2021.

United Nations (1973): “Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 5-16 June 1972,” https://undocs.org/en/A/CONF.48/14/Rev.1, viewed on 3 August 2021.

 


[3] https://www.fao.org/3/am251e/am251e00.pdf   visited on 21 July, 2022.

 

Related Articles

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

IN FACT

Analysis

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Archives