Centre drops plan to bring in changes to Forest Act of 1927

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News: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has withdrawn a draft amendment that proposed updates to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. In March 2019, the government proposed the draft law called as Indian Forest Act, 2019.

Facts:

Key features of Draft Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill of 2019

  • Definition of Forests: It defines forest as any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest/forest land in any government record and the lands managed by government/community as forest and mangroves. It also includes any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of the Act.
  • Definition of community: The amendment defines community as “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”
  • New category of forest- Production Forests: forests with specific objectives for production of timber, pulp, pulpwood, firewood, non-timber forest produce, medicinal plants or any forest species to increase production in the country for a specified period.
  • Forest development cess: It proposes a forest development cess of up to 10% of the assessed value of mining products removed from forests, and water used for irrigation or in industries. This amount would be deposited in a special fund and used for forest restoration, conservation and protection.
  • Empowering Forest Bureaucracy:
    • The bill brings in forest bureaucracy to manage “village forests” through joint forest management committee (JFMC).
    • Forest Officers can issue search warrants, enter and investigate land within their jurisdiction
    • Forests officers will get indemnity for using arms to prevent forest related offences.
    • Forest officials will get powers to remove tribals from areas earmarked for conservation

Issue: According to activists, the amendment to Indian Forest Act undermine the rights of tribal as it empowers forest bureaucracy and would lead to conflicts during implementation, particularly when seen in the context of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Additional Information:

The Indian Forest Act, 1927

  • It was enacted after repealing Indian forest Act 1878 to ‘consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce, and the duty liable on timber and other forest produce’.
  • The Act gave the Government and Forest Department the power to create Reserved Forests, and the right to use Reserved Forests for Government use alone.

Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

  • It seeks to recognize forest rights of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been occupying and are dependent on the forest land for generations.
  • It envisions the forest rights committee of a village as the central unit in managing forest resources.