The Centre’s decision to allow temporary activities like weddings, exhibitions, concerts, film shoots etc. inside forests without prior permission has triggered a debate on their likely impact on the wilderness.
“The environment ministry, in a letter dated October 11 and addressed to forest secretaries of states and union territories, said all such temporary activities can be conducted with the approval of the divisional forest officer (DFO) of the range,” reported Hindustan Times.
“The matter has been examined in detail in the ministry and it has been decided that temporary work in forest land which does not involve part of any protected area, breaking up or clearing of forest land or portion thereof, assigned by way of lease or otherwise to firm, organization or a person and does not create any right over such forest land…will not require prior approval of central government under the FC Act,” the letter added.
Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, referring to the letter said, “The letter does not clarify what is temporary use or its duration.”
“Would a film shoot, cultural or religious event be part of it? It is very likely that there would be rights of forest dwellers that persist on such land,” he added.
He further said the matter needs to be examined whether entering and using these areas only with permission of the forest department can amount to trespassing on other existing or pending rights.
“Also, if no approval is needed from the Centre, there will also not be any oversight mechanism,” he added.
Officials from the environment ministery said, “Such temporary activities were allowed in forest areas through a guideline issued in 2014. The guideline has only been reissued now.”
Reacting to the order, several environment experts raised concerns about the impact of such activities on biodiversity and forest dwellers.
Many felt that any kind of anthropocentric activity even if it is temporary is going to be detrimental for the diminishing wilderness.
“The Art of Living event on the Yamuna floodplains in 2016 was temporary but had huge repercussions on biodiversity,” reported Hindustan Times quoting naturalist Vijay Dhasmana.
“We should be very careful such a notification is not allowed. A Lot of wildlife including tigers exist in forests outside protected areas and any kind of meddling will be a death knell for biodiversity,” he added.