Rajya Sabha Discusses Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023

Proposed Bill Aims to Exempt Land Near Borders and Promote Eco-tourism in Forest Areas

The Rajya Sabha discussed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023, aiming to exempt land within 100 km of India’s borders from conservation laws and allow the establishment of zoos, safaris, and eco-tourism facilities in forest areas. The bill was previously passed by the Lok Sabha.

Minister for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, highlighted that around 45 lakh hectares of land were diverted between 1950 and 1980 during the Congress-led government’s tenure.

The BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi, revealed that the bill’s name has been changed to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, and a preamble has been added to it. The bill allows acquiring up to 10 hectares of land in border areas with strategic importance and national security concerns, without Forest Conservation process clearance, as per central government guidelines. Additionally, up to 5 hectares of land can be acquired in left-wing extremism areas.

BJD’s Prashanta Nanda supported the bill but stressed the need to include deemed forests in the definition of forests as ruled by a Supreme Court judgement in 1995. This would prevent the diversion and destruction of good forest areas that are currently neither notified nor recorded in government documents.

The bill exempts forest land within 100 km along international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control for construction of strategic linear projects, security-related infrastructure, defense-related projects, camps for paramilitary forces, or public utility projects specified by the central government.

It also empowers the central government to determine the terms and conditions under which certain surveys, such as reconnaissance, prospecting, investigation, or exploration, including seismic surveys, won’t be treated as non-forest purpose.

The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 is a significant central statute for forest conservation in India, requiring prior permission from the central government for de-reservation of reserved forests, use of forest land for non-forest purposes, assigning forest land to private entities, and clearing naturally grown trees for reafforestation.

In summary, the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 aims to provide exemptions for specific land usage near borders and in strategic areas, but concerns have been raised about the impact on deemed forests and existing forest areas. The bill aims to balance conservation and development interests while giving the central government more authority in land-use decisions.