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Trading of Forests for Tress Under the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

Context: Recently the government introduced The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, which seeks to make non-recorded forest land for compensatory afforestation.

About the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

  • The Bill amends the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which provides for the conservation of forest land.
  • The Bill adds and exempts certain types of land from the purview of the Act. Further, it expands the list of activities permitted to be carried out on forest land.

Key features of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

  • Restrictions on activities in forest:
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The Act prohibits the use of forest land for non-forest purposes, unless approved by the central government. Certain activities related to the conservation, management, and development of forests and wildlife are excluded from these restrictions. The Bill adds more activities to this list such as zoos and safaris, eco-tourism facilities, and silvicultural operations.
  • Land under the purview of the Act: The Bill seeks to limit the applicability of the Act only to land recorded as ‘forest’, which will remove the protection of the Act from millions of hectares of land that have the characteristics of forests, but are not notified as such.
    • This will impact about 28% of India’s forest cover, roughly the size of Gujarat.
  • Exempted categories of land: The bill exempts certain types of forest land from the Act, such as forest land along a government-maintained rail line or public road etc.
    • It also exempts forest land proposed for security-related infrastructure, defence-related projects, or public utility projects as specified by the central government, subject to guidelines.
  • Assigning of land through a lease or otherwise:
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Under the Act, state government or any authority requires prior approval of the central government to direct the assigning of forest land through a lease or otherwise to any organisation not owned by the government. The Bill provides that such assigning may be done to any organisation (such as private person, agency, authority, corporation) subject to terms and conditions prescribed by central government.
  • Power to issue directions: The Bill adds that the central government may issue directions for the implementation of the Act to any other authority/ organisation under or recognised by the centre, state, or union territory.

Trading of Forests for Tress under the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

  • The term “trading of forests for trees” refers to the exchange of forested land with the obligation to plant trees elsewhere, as required under compensatory afforestation.
    • Compensatory afforestation means that every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining or industry, the user agency pays for planting forests over an equal area of non-forest land, or when such land is not available, twice the area of degraded forest land.
  • The Bill seeks to make non-recorded forest land available for developers to meet their legal obligation towards compensatory afforestation in lieu of forest land diverted for development projects.
  • Pros of the move:
    • The use of non-forest land for compensatory afforestation could help to preserve existing forest areas by reducing the need to clear them for development projects.
    • The availability of non-forest land for afforestation could help to build forest carbon stock by raising plantations.
  • Cons of the move:
    • The conversion of forested land into non-forest land for development projects could have a detrimental impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
    • The use of non-forest land for afforestation may not be as effective in sequestering carbon or promoting ecological restoration as the use of natural forest areas.
    • The use of non-forest land for afforestation could potentially displace communities or lead to conflicts over land use.

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