Due to various reasons there is a continuous deforestation in our country, inspite of National Forest Policy 1952 which enunciate that one third of the geographical area of the country should be under Forests. From 1952 to 1976 more than 1,50,000 ha of forest land per annum was diverted for various non- forest purposes. To thwart this and to check indiscriminate diversion of forest land Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was promulgated. Penal provisions under sections 3A and 3B were inserted by Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act (69 of 1988). The Act was for conservation of forests but it did not define 'Forest'. Supreme Court of India dated 12.12.1996 in WP No. 202/1995, defined forests and the scope of forests was extended to include all types of forests irrespective of ownership.
This article narrates various aspects of Forest (Conservation) act, besides emphasising role of State Forest departments in solving the improper/ non-utilization of funds for carrying out compensatory afforestation. The article calls for the establishment of criteria for mapping \"inviolate\" areas and be included in Working Plans so that diversion in such areas is never permitted.
National Forest Policy 1952 enunciated that one third of the geographic area of the country should be under forests. However, there was continuous deforestation in the country for various reasons. It is estimated that 4.135 Million ha (Mha) forest land was officially diverted for various non forest purposes, by the concerned states, during the period from 1951-52 to 1975-76 which works out to be more than 1,50,000 ha. per annum, that too without any mitigation measures. To diminish the rate of deforestation and degradation of forest land and conserve forests, Government of India enacted the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was promulgated to check indiscriminate diversion of forest land. The Act was brought into force \"for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto\" so as to regulate diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. The Act has a strong judicial reinforcement but still it is struggling for its cause. There are certain technical and procedural flaws in the Act which render its implementation arduous.
The Act came into force on 25th October, 1980, however the penal provisions under sections 3A and 3B were inserted by Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act (69 of 1988). This elucidates that actually the Act initially served a regulatory purpose only as there was no penal clause to act as a deterrent against any act of commission or omission against the provisions of the Act.
The Act was for conservation of forests but it did not define 'Forest'. It was only after the T.N. Godavarman case that upon the orders of Hon'ble Supreme Court of India dated 12.12.1996 in WP No. 202/1995, forests were defined and the scope of forests was extended to include all types of forests irrespective of ownership. The Honâ€™ble Supreme Court defined forests by their \"dictionary meaning\".
For diversion of Forest land, equivalent non forest land has to be acquired, planted and declared as Forest land (FC Rules, 2014) The Ministry's records revealed that against the receivable non-forest land of 1,03,381.91 hectare, 28,086 hectare was received during the period 2006-12 which constituted only 27 per cent of receivable non-forest land. The compensatory afforestation done over the non forest land received was an abysmal 7,280.84 hectare constituting seven per cent of the land which ought to have been received (CAG Report, 2013). Seven States viz. Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Punjab and Rajasthan show no record of carrying out compensatory afforestation either over non-forest land or over degraded forest land (CAG Report, 2013).
The status of transfer and mutation of NFL is also dismal. Out of 23,246.80 hectare of non-forest land received by the States/ UT's only 11,294.38 hectare was transferred and mutated in the name of the State Forest Department. Out of this, only 3,279.31 hectare was declared as Reserve Forest/ Protected Forest which constitutes 14 per cent of non forest land so received (CAG Report, 2013). Thus, diverted forest land is not being appropriately and adequately compensated. The main impediment has been the availability of non-forest land for afforestation. According to the FCA guidelines the land selected should preferably be contiguous to the forest being diverted, so that it is easier for forest department to manage it. But, in case this is not possible, land in any other part of the state can be used for the purpose. In case there is no non forest land available for Compensatory Afforestation, a certificate has to be issued by the Chief Secretary, and compensatory afforestation has to be undertaken over the degraded forest land twice to the extent of the forest land diverted. It was observed that compensatory afforestation was allowed over an area of 75,905.47 hectare without any certificate of the Chief Secretary, in almost all the states except Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Sikkim. Only in two State/ UTs viz. Chandigarh and Uttarakhand, equivalent or more non-forest land was received. (CAG Report, 2013). In most of the places the land on which Compensatory Afforestation was carried out was not contiguous to the forest area.
Despite gross non-compliance with statutory conditions and orders of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, no action is initiated by MoEF. In fact MoEF has invoked penal provision only in three cases during the period August 2009 to October 2012 and even this action was only limited to issue of show cause notices. Penal clause prescribed in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, is largely inadequate and ineffective to put any deterrence towards illegal and unauthorised practices (CAG Report, 2013).
Restriction on the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purpose (Section 2 of the FCA).
Not withstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force in a State, no State Government or other authority shall make, except with the prior approval of the Central Government, any order directing â€“ (i) that any reserved forest (within the meaning of the expression \"reserved forest\" in any law for the time being in force in that State) or any portion thereof, shall cease to be reserved; However, it is noticed that the process of de-reservation of forest land and converting it to revenue land without concurrence of Central Government, under Indian Forest Act, is still in practice in many states. With the advent of Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2008, conversion of all forest villages, old habitations, unsurveyed villages etc. into revenue villages under Section 3(1) (h) of the Act, is under progress in many states like Chattisgarh, Orissa etc.
The Forest (Conservation) Act is thus, still inadequate and inefficient to compensate for the loss of forest land. Nevertheless the regulatory role of the Act in controlling the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes cannot be denied. The procedure for diverting forest land for non-forest purposes as established under the FCA resulted in the diversion of 11,37,686 hectares of forest land for non-forest purposes between 1980 and 2009. As per information furnished by the Regional offices, total forest land diverted during the period 2006-12 was 1,14,877.26 hectare.
Considering the statistics of the area that has been broken down every year for various non forest purposes, the area diverted at present is around 17,000-20,000 ha per annum while earlier it was more than 1,50,000 ha. per annum. Thus the rate of diversion of forest land has decreased considerably. One of the main concern has also been the improper/ non-utilization of funds for carrying out compensatory afforestation. This should be addressed by State forest departments through adequate essential framework and appropriate monitoring mechanisms. Compensatory Afforestation should be ensured as mandated in the Act and guidelines, to compensate adequately for diversion of forest land.
Some forest areas must continue to remain \"inviolate\" for all kinds of activities. These \"inviolate\" areas should not be restricted to national parks, tiger reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries â€“ which, no doubt, would remain out of bounds â€“ but must also include other areas which are endowed with dense forest cover or rich biodiversity. The criteria for mapping these \"inviolate\" areas should be decided and such areas should be mapped and included in Working Plans so that diversion in such areas is never permitted.
1. Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Compensatory Afforestation in India, Union Government, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Report No. 21 of 2013.
2. Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
3. Forest (Conservation) Second Amendment Rules, 2014.
4. Handbook of Forest (Conservation) Act, MoEF, New Delhi, 1980.
(Source: This is an abstract taken from the "My forest" Journal; March - June 2017. The author is Prachi Gangwar, IFS. You can read the entire article at aranya.gov.in)