PANJIM: The endorsement by the Parliamentary Committee, set up to examine controversial proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has caused concern among environmental activists, who say that the very purpose of the amendments is to dilute the mandate of forest protection and conservation.
Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, was introduced in Parliament this March. The bill was then referred to a joint committee of MPs for its opinion. The committee asked citizens to send in their views. May 18, was the deadline.
The bill has clauses that effectively reduce the area of forests that were protected.
The bill will do this in the name of causes ranging from national security and left-wing extremism to “small establishments” along highways.
The Forest Conservation Act amendment will un-notify those forests that existed from antiquity and included only notified forests.
The Centre has also equipped itself through the amendments in the Act, to extend its remit to land which is not officially classified as ‘forest’ in State or Central government records.
The amendments were introduced in the Lok Sabha in March this year while the draft copy was in the public domain, for comment, since June, last year. The Bill seeks to amend the pivotal 1980 law wherein any forest land diverted for non-forestry purposes is duly compensated. This has invited opposition from multiple quarters.
While this will impact forests across the country, Goa’s environmentalists have reacted strongly to the Parliamentary Committees’ endorsement of the amendments.
Renowned environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar said that the amendments intend to facilitate developmental activities that will hamper forest and wildlife habitat along with the environment and ecology by large. “This is the best example of giving top most importance to development and its related activities at the cost of environment, forest and wildlife,” he said.
Kerkar said that draconian amendments are introduced to misuse the Act in the interest of lobbies, who in the name of development are out to destroy the country and its green cover.
Another activist Abhijit Prabhudesai said, “Irrespective of what the laws or courts have been saying to protect our forest, there are a number of lobbies like mining, real estate and the industrial lobby, which are looking at diverting and fragmenting forests for generating profits with the backing of the government.”
He said that the amendments are completely against the very objectives of the Forest Act. “Every amendment is to dilute or to remove protection of forests,” Prabhudesai said. He pointed out how only 15 days time was granted to the public to raise their objections and comments and no ground consultation was done.
Milind Karkhanis, Former Deputy Conservator of Forest said, “The Government has taken a decision to go ahead and it is not binding on them to take into account any suggestions. We don't know what is the motive of the government behind the amendments? As the government has taken a decision on their wisdom the rationality and effects, the results of the decision will be seen later. The government has been cleverly placing before us incomplete and old figures of green cover probably because they find it of no use. It could be that the decision that they have taken will serve them better.”