The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has finalised the first draft of the comprehensive amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA) and sent to states for consultation.
Need of Indian forest Act, 2019
- To curtail the discretionary powers of the forest bureaucracy.
- To address the decline in the forest cover of the country mainly because of large-scale diversion of forest lands for agriculture, diversion for “development” projects and regularisation of encroachments by state governments.
- Definition of Forest – Forest is defined to include “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, and also any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act.”
- Definition of Community – 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”.
- Focus on conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources: While the preamble of IFA, 1927, said the Act was focused on laws related to transport of forest produce and the tax on it, the amendment has increased the focus to “conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability to ensure provision of ecosystem services in perpetuity and to address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments”.
- A new category of forests — production forest. The amendment introduces a new category of forests — production forest. These will be 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.
- State governments to levy taxes for forest development: It provides for empowering the state governments to levy cess upto 10% of value assessed of mining products removed from the forests and water used for irrigation or on industries. The cess shall be used exclusively for reforestation, forest protection and other purposes connected with the tree planting, forest development and conservation.
- Power of centre to intervene in matters of forest management: The Union government has proposed that the Centre will be able to intervene in the states on matters of management of forestlands, overruling the states on several counts when it deems fit.
- More Power to forest officers: under Section 66(2) of the Indian Forest (Amendment) Act forest-officer, may if necessary, use firearms for securing of the forest-produce.
- State government may recognise and notify private forest – The proposed amendments also stated that the state government “may recognise and notify private forest at the request of the owner” if the forest is used primarily for environmental conservation and preservation including, protecting water catchments.
- Exclusion of ‘village forestry’ from the preview of Forest Right Act.
- The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms.
- While defining forest proposed amendment consider only administrative needs and ignores ecological parameters. Various national and international agencies such as FAO, CBD, UNFCCC and FSI have adopted the definition of forest that account density and area under tree as the basis of definition.
- the state governments could take away the rights of the forest dwellers if the government feels it is not in line with “conservation of the proposed reserved forest” by payment to the people impacted or by the grant of land.
Indian Forest Act, 1927:
- The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on previous Indian Forest Acts implemented under the British. The most famous one was the Indian Forest Act of 1878.
- Both the 1878 act and the 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
- It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
- It defines what a forest offence is, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.
- An “Important Common Forest” in India is a forest governed by local communities in a way compatible with sustainable development. Such forests are typically called village forests or panchayat forests, reflecting the fact that the administration and resource use of the forest occurs at the village and panchayat (an elected rural body) levels.
- Hamlets, villages and communities of villages may actually administer such a forest.
- Such community forests are usually administered by a locally elected body, usually called the Forest Protection Committee, Village Forest Committee or the Village Forest Institution.
- Such committees are known as Van Panchayats in the Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand, Forest Co-operative Societies in Himachal Pradesh and Van Samrakshan Samitis in Andhra Pradesh.
- Such forests typically conform to the IUCN Category VI Protected Areas, but protection may be enforced by the local communities or the government depending on local legislation.
- Maharashtra is the state with the most forest land while Haryana has the least.