Assam Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi has written to the Centre expressing his concern over the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1890. 

“Please do recall that the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 was brought in to check increasing deforestation by mandating prior clearances for projects that sought to use forest land for non-forest purposes,” Assam Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi stated in his letter to union minister for environment, forest and climate change – Bhupendra Yadav. 

Bordoloi further shared data related to massive loss of forest/tree cover in India, especially the Northeast in the past few years. 

“I would also like to take this opportunity to share with you data generated by the University of Maryland’s Global Forest Watch (GFW) which found that the depletion of the global rainforest cover has increased by 12% in 2020 (over 2019), which includes substantial loss of tree cover in India,” Pradyut Bordoloi said. 

He added: “Alarmingly, the data shows that the Northeast region saw the highest loss of fores cover in India, accounting for 76% on India’s total tree cover loss.” 

“Assam, my home state, was the largest contributor, accounting for 14.1% of India’s total tree cover loss alone. As per this data, in the year 2020, the Northeast region accounted for 79% of India’s loss of tree cover,” the Assam Congress MP further said. 

Also read: Excessive heat due to loss in tree cover? Northeast lost nearly 80% of tree cover in 2020, says study

Pradyut Bordoloi said that the proposed “amendments appear to weaken the Act’s potential to prevent deforestation and are likely to open floodgates for misuse by vested interests”. 

“…the recently proposed amendments which seek to exempt the need for prior clearance in various scenarios, are a deep cause of concern,” said Assam Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi in his letter. 

The ministry for environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) recently published the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. 

On October 2, 2021, the MoEFCC invited objections and suggestions from the state governments as well as the general public within 15 days on the proposed amendments. 

Based on the feedback received, the government will draw up a draft amendment which will be followed by a second round of public consultation before the Bill is finalized and tabled in the Parliament. 

Through these amendments, the MoEFCC seeks to redefine the definition of a ‘forest’ which has long been contentious. 

Also read: Assam Congress condemns incident of teacher compelled to kneel down before students 

As the present definition of the ‘forest’ has locked the forest land across India, prohibiting private entities to use their own forest land for non-forestry purposes. 

The proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, would make it easier to use forest areas for non-forest purposes. 

The proposed amendments are as follows: 

  1. All the land acquired by the Railways and Road Ministries before 1980 will be exempted under the Act as these were acquired for expansion but forests have grown in these areas over the years, barring the government from using these lands for expansion. If passed in the parliament, the Ministries will no longer need forest clearance for their projects nor to have to pay compensation levies to build infrastructure on these lands. 
  2. It further proposes that individuals whose lands fall within the ambit of state-specific Private Forests Act or in the present definition of forest land, the construction of structures for bona fide purposes including residential units up to 250sqm as a one-time relaxation will be allowed. 
  3. Further, any defence project close to the international borders will be exempted from forest clearance.
  4. Extraction of oil and natural gas from the forest land will be permitted only if technologies such as Extended Reach Drilling are used. 
  5. During the renewal of a lease, the levies for non-forestry purposes will not be applicable here. The Ministry said that double levy at the time of awarding the lease and the renewal is not rational. 
  6. Strip plantations on the sides of roads are exempted under the proposed amendment.
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