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06-04-2023

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  • GS-3 Environment, Ecology & Biodiversity:
    • How the forest conservation Bill in Lok Sabha trades forests for trees
  • Fact File
  • Finland joins NATO



How the forest conservation Bill in Lok Sabha trades forests for trees

GS-3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

 

The Lok Sabha has introduced the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 that proposes changes to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which aims to preserve forest lands. The proposed amendments modify the Act's scope by including and excluding specific land categories and widening the range of activities allowed on forest lands.

 

Key Features of the Bill

Restrictions on activities in forest

  • The Act limits the use of forest land for non-forest purposes and allows its de-reservation only with prior approval from the central government.
  • Non-forest purposes include any use of land other than reforestation or cultivation of horticultural crops.
  • The Act specifies certain activities that are exempt from non-forest purposes, including conservation, management, and development of forest and wildlife.
  • The Bill adds more activities to this list, such as zoos, safaris, eco-tourism facilities, and silvicultural operations.
  • The central government can also exclude any survey from being classified as non-forest purpose and specify terms and conditions for the exemptions.

Land under the purview of the Act

  • The Bill specifies two types of land under the Act's purview: land declared as a forest under the Indian Forest Act or any other law, and land not covered in the first category but notified as a forest on or after October 25, 1980, in a government record.
  • The Act does not apply to land changed from forest use to non-forest use before December 12, 1996, by any authorized state/UT authority.

Exempted categories of land

  • The Bill exempts certain types of land from the provisions of the Act, such as forest land along a government-maintained public road or rail line, and roadside amenity up to a maximum size of 0.10 hectare.
  • Forest land within 100 km along the international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control, proposed to be used for strategic linear projects, and land up to 10 hectares for constructing security-related infrastructure are also exempted.
  • The central government can issue guidelines to specify terms and conditions for the exemptions.

Assigning of land through a lease or otherwise

  • Under the Act, the state government or any authority requires prior approval from the central government to assign forest land through a lease or other means to any non-governmental organization.
  • The Bill permits such assigning subject to terms and conditions prescribed by the central government.

Power to issue directions

  • The central government may issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any other authority or organization under or recognized by the center, state, or union territory.

 

The impact of the FC Act amendment on non-notified forest lands

  • In the post-Independence period, a large portion of forest land was declared as reserved and protected forests and brought under state forest departments, but some forested areas were excluded while areas without any standing forests were included.
  • To address these anomalies, extensive ground surveys were supposed to be conducted, but the process remained incomplete.
  • In 1996, the Supreme Court suspended tree-felling across the country and ruled that the Forest Conservation (FC) Act would apply to all land parcels recorded as ‘forest’ or resembling the dictionary meaning of forest.
  • This order helped curb deforestation on land not recorded as ‘forest’, but it also prevented the exclusion of vast areas already in use for agriculture or as homesteads.
  • The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill seeks to limit the applicability of the FC Act only to land recorded as ‘forest’ instead of completing the demarcation process on the ground.
  • This will result in the removal of the Act’s protection from millions of hectares of land that have forest-like characteristics but are not notified as such.
  • According to the State of Forests Report 2021, India’s forest cover is 713,789 sq km, of which nearly 28% or 197,159 sq km is not recorded as ‘forest’.

 

Amendment to FC Act Raises Concerns About Environmental Conservation

  • Restricting the scope of the FC Act will make it easier for developers to secure forest clearance for their projects.
  • Compensatory afforestation is a key condition for forest clearance, where the developer must carry out afforestation on equivalent non-forest land or degraded forest land twice the extent of the forest area diverted.
  • The government proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Rules in June 2022 to allow developers to raise plantations on land where the FC Act is not applicable and swap them for subsequent requirements of compensatory afforestation.
  • This will incentivize building private land banks of plantations and streamline the forest clearance process.
  • Conservationists view this as a double whammy as unrecorded forests will be lost to plantations, and these plantations will subsequently help divert recorded forests for projects.

 

Proposed exemptions to the FC Act under the Amendment Bill

  • The Bill seeks to expand existing executive orders that exempt certain types of projects from FC Act clearance and make them part of the Act itself.
  • The construction of strategic linear projects of "national importance and concerning national security" within 100 km of international borders, the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the Line of Control (LoC) are proposed to be exempted from FC Act clearance.
  • India’s land boundaries extend over 15,000 km.
  • The construction of defence-related projects or camps for paramilitary forces or public utility projects in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas may also be exempted.
  • "Security-related infrastructure" requiring up to 10 hectares will be exempted, without defining its scope.
  • The Bill adds silvicultural operations, construction of zoos and wildlife safaris, eco-tourism facilities, and any other activities "the Central Government may, by order, specify" to the list of activities related to conservation and therefore exempt from the FC Act.
  • These proposed exemptions are broad and leave a lot to the Centre to decide retrospectively.

 

Proposed amendments to FC Act jeopardize forest conservation and indigenous communities

  • FC Act review should consider concessions for land traditionally controlled by indigenous and forest communities.
  • Despite the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in 2006, the opportunity for indigenous and forest communities to provide consent regarding the diversion of forest land for development projects has gradually decreased.
  • Proposed Bill limits community say on extensive plantations that may be established on their land.
  • Although the Bill claims to address the changing ecological, strategic, and economic landscape of the country while improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities, the proposed amendments primarily promote fast-growing plantations to achieve carbon neutrality, thereby restricting the scope of the FC Act.
  • Fast-growing plantations score faster carbon growth and count towards increasing green cover, but natural forests perform key ecosystem services and provide livelihoods for millions.
  • Proposed focus on tradeable vertical repositories of carbon can jeopardize the purpose of the FC Act to protect and conserve India’s forests.


[Ref- IE]


Fact File


Finland joins NATO 

  • Recently, Finland became a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), signifying a significant change in Europe's post-World War II alliances and further isolating Russia.
  • This decision ended Finland's long-standing policy of military non-alignment, which lasted for over 70 years. During the Cold War era, Finland was known for its neutrality between the Soviet Union and the Western powers, a policy referred to as "Finlandization".
  • Finland is the 31st country to join.
  • Finland has a 1,340km (832 mile) land border with Russia.


North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

  • The NATO was formed in 1949 by 12 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and France.
  • The members of NATO agree to help one another if they come under attack.
  • The organisation's original goal was to challenge Soviet expansion in Europe after World War II.
  • Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, several Eastern European countries that were previously aligned with the USSR in the Warsaw Pact were granted membership to NATO.
  • Russia, a former member of the Soviet Union, has persistently contended that NATO's acceptance of Eastern European countries poses a threat to its security. It has strongly opposed Ukraine's bid to join the alliance, as it fears such a move would bring NATO too close to its borders.

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