Proposed Amendments to Forest Laws in India

Proposed Amendments to Forest Laws in India

Over 90 years after the enactment of the Indian Forest Act (IFA) 1927, a proposed amendment now plans to give more powers to the forest authorities, encourages large scale afforestation for carbon sequestration and enhances penalties for stronger protection of the forests.

On 7 March, 2019, the central government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) sent the draft of the proposed amendment to the IFA 1927, to all the states. It asked the state governments to hold state level consultations with all stakeholders including NGOs and civil society organisations on the proposed amendment within 90 days and send a consolidated reply based on the feedback and consultations.

What are the amendments?

The preamble of the IFA 1927 notes it as an “Act to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest-produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest-produce”. The new draft proposes to widen it substantially, recommending the new preamble to read, “An Act to provide for conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability to ensure provision of ecosystem services in perpetuity and to address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments.” It also noted that it is in line to “meet the national developmental aspirations and the various international commitments.”

Push towards carbon sequestration

The draft amendment proposed that, “state governments may declare any area as a conservation area for the purpose of enhanced carbon sequestration and such area shall be brought under active forest management for enhancing vegetational growth by reforestation and afforestation.”

In the commitment made to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015, the government had promised to create “an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide) equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.”

Enhanced punishments for violations of IFA

The draft amendments also proposed to enhance punishments for violation of the IFA including for offences like pollution. It said that anyone who “litters or dumps plastic or any other waste material on the ground, or poisons or dumps plastic and other waste material into the water bodies and streams within or flowing into them, or uses explosives or uses forest area as dumping ground for waste and undesirable substances so as to cause pollution in the forest” shall be liable to punishment.

Penalties are enhanced and a forest development cess is proposed

The proposed amendment also said that the state governments may levy a cess not exceeding 10 percent of the value of mining products removed from the forests and water used for irrigation or in industries. The cess shall be used exclusively for reforestation, forest protection and other purposes connected with the tree planting, forest development and conservation.

As per the IFA 1927, people found violating the Act can be punished with imprisonment upto one month, or fine upto Rs. 500 or both. The proposed amendment enhances the punishment with provisions for imprisonment ranging from one month to seven years (and more) and fine of Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 500,000.

The proposed amendments also stated that the state government “may recognise and notify private forest at the request of the owner” if the forest is used primarily for environmental conservation and preservation including, protecting water catchments.”

The draft further stated that the central government shall constitute a National Forestry Board with the prime minister as chairperson and environment minister as vice chairperson which will meet at least once a year. The revision of the IFA 1927 has been on the cards since the current government came into power in May 2014.

Last year, the central government brought the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Rules, 2018 which gives the control on funds of over Rs. 660 billion, to be spent on afforestation, in the hands of the forest bureaucracy rather than gram sabhas. The government also came out with a draft national forest policy which sought to privatise the forests and suggested a policy to leasing of wasteland to the corporate sector for re-greening.

Source: Huffington Post Article Date & Time: 27/03/2019 4:33 PM IST

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