Amendment to Indian Forest Act:
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has finalised the first draft of the comprehensive amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
- The primary reason behind the enactment of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 by the colonial government was to extract maximum timber from the forests in India.
- There were different regimes under which forests were regulated at that time, which made the exploitation difficult and complex.
- This act was enacted to ‘consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce, and the duty liable on timber and other forest produce’. As per it, all the forest property in the country will be under the state and the rights all such forest dwellers like tribals could be extinguished at the behest of British administration.
- It led to mass displacement of people even in post independence India. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was enacted to correct this exploitation.
- Further, during this time various other national development aspirations and international commitments have come into existence. Many committees including Justice Shah Panel have recommended changes to the 1927 Act.
- In 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture recommended that the tribals should be chased out. On the basis of that, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into being.
- Through the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Centre recognised the symbiotic relationship between tribals and forests for the first time.
- During the 1980s and 1990s, at least the Centre showed some kind of sympathy for the tribals, as a result of which important legislations like FRA and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, or PESA, were enacted.
- Earlier, the laws were related to transport of forest products and the tax on it. Now, the amendment has increased the focus to “conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources.
- Redefined Forests, village forests as well as community.
- Introduces new category of Production Forests- 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.
- 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 “exclusively for reforestation; forest protection and other ancillary purposes connected with tree planting, forest development and conservation”.
- More powers to forest bureaucracy and administration. It includes power to issue search warrants, enter and investigation and provides indemnity to forest officers to prevent offences.
- Earlier, foresters used to allege that tribals are Maoists in disguise. After the amendment is passed, the forest bureaucracy will term them as "encroachers" and shoot.
- Facilitate the increase in forest cover from about 24% now to 33%.
- Bring clarity on definition of forests and its stakeholders.
- Generate resources to fund forest ecosystem and promote forest based industries.
- Involve more people and stakeholders in conservation and progress of forests.
- Enhance punishment for violators of the forest law to create a deterrent for offenders like timber smugglers