Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023: History, Changes

6 minute read

On the 4th of August, 2023, the President of India assented to The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023. The Amendment was done to the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980. Additionally, the Act represents India’s responsibility for sustainable forest management that aligns with global environmental goals. Hence, this law sets a strong foundation for India’s journey towards a greener and more resilient future. It does so by encouraging a balance between ecological preservation, economic development as well as social welfare. 

Also Read: Important Amendment of the Indian Constitution

What is the History of the Act?

After India gained independence, significant portions of forest land were categorised as reserved and protected forests. 

  • However, there remained areas with forests that were not officially designated while some lands without any standing forests came under the umbrella of ‘forest’ lands.

The Godavarman Case

In the Godavarman case on the 12th of December 1996, the Supreme Court of India took a decisive step by stopping the felling of trees nationally. 

  • It ruled that the Forest (Conservation) Act would expand its jurisdiction to all land plots either officially recorded as ‘forest’ or those that looked like the definition of a forest as per the dictionary.

Amendments to the Forest Conservation Rules

Fast forward to June 2022, the Government of India made Amendments to the Forest Conservation Rules. 

  • These Amendments introduced a mechanism allowing developers to establish plantations on lands where the Forest (Conservation) Act does not directly apply. 
  • Furthermore, the purpose of this Amendment was to enable the creation of compensatory afforestation plots, allowing developers to offset the environmental impact of their projects. 

Also Read: What is Democracy?

What are the Key Amendments in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023?

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023 saw the insertion of a Preamble. Moreover, an amendment in Section 1 and an addition of Section 1A. There was also an amendment to Section 2 as well as an insertion of Section 3C. 

The Preamble

A Preamble (introduction) was added after the long title and before the enacting formula. The Preamble includes:

  • Forests have an important part in helping the achievement of national targets such as Net Zero Emissions by 2070.
    • Additionally, they contribute significantly to the maintenance and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. This is achieved through the promotion of ecologically balanced and sustainable development practices.
  • The targets set by the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the country aim to establish a carbon sink capable of absorbing an additional 2.5 to 3.0 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by the year 2030. 
  • Furthermore, India aims to expand its forest and tree cover to include one-third of its total land area, supported by a heightened growth trajectory.
  • India has a long-standing tradition of safeguarding forests and their diverse ecosystems.
    • This commitment extends to enhancing the economic, social, and environmental advantages of forests. 
    • The focus is on improving the livelihoods of communities dependent on forests for sustenance.
  • Moreover, it is necessary to have Provisions that relate to the restoration of forests and conservation management, continuing ecological security, maintaining the cultural and traditional importance of forests and promoting economic needs as well as carbon neutrality. 

The Change in the Act Name

The initial name of the act, The Forest (Conservation) Act, would be changed to ‘Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam.’ 

Section 1A

Furthermore, this is a new section that has been added to the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023. This section states certain land that will be covered under the Act:

  1. The land that is officially designated or identified as a forest under the regulations of the Indian Forest Act of 1927, or any other existing laws.
  1. Moreover, the land that, while not falling under the definition in clause (a), has been officially recorded as a forest in Government Records.
    • This applies to land that has been documented as forest on or after the 25th of October, 1980. 

Land Not Covered Under the Act

Additionally, the land that will not be covered under the Act is as follows:

  • Forest land located adjacent to a railway line or a public road maintained by the Government.
    • The land that provides access to a habitation, or to a railway, and roadside amenity, limited to a maximum size of 0.10 hectares in each instance, is exempted from the provisions of this Act.
  • Any tree, tree plantation, or reafforestation established on lands not mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b) of sub-section (1)
  • Moreover, forest land that,
    • Forest land that falls within a radius of 100 kilometres along international borders the Line of Actual Control, or the Line of Control as applicable, and is reserved for the construction of essential linear projects of national significance related to national security.
  • Also, up to 10 hectares are suggested to be used for the construction of security-related infrastructure.
  • Land that is intended for the construction of defence-related projects, paramilitary force camps, or public utility projects, as determined by the Central Government.
    • This applies to areas not exceeding 5 hectares in regions affected by Left Wing Extremism, as specified by notifications from the Central Government.

Detailed Inclusion of New Activities

In addition, the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023 introduces new activities under forestry:

  • They will include infrastructure for forefront forest staff, eco-tourism, safaris and zoos. 
  • These activities will be set up in Protected Areas and will be owned by the Government. 
  • It also specifies that investigations and surveys in forest areas will no longer be classified as non-forestry activities.

Section 3C

This new section 3C, gives the Central Government power to issue directives. 

  • The Central Government is authorized to issue directives to any relevant authority, organization, or body recognized by the Central, State, or Union Territory Governments as needed to enforce the provisions of this Act.

Also Read: What is Nationalism?

What is the Debate around the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023?

Consequently, there are debates around the Amendment that put across points, such as:

  • The Act’s new Hindi name faced criticism for being “non-inclusive,” potentially excluding non-Hindi speaking populations, especially in South India and North-East India.
  • Concerns were raised about proposed exemptions, particularly for strategic projects near international borders.
    • This could lead to forest clearances in ecologically sensitive regions like the Himalayan and northeastern areas.
    • Without proper assessment and mitigation plans, such clearances might threaten biodiversity and trigger extreme weather events.
  • There are fears that the Bill could erase the rights of indigenous communities residing in India’s border regions, particularly due to the potential clearances for strategic projects.
  • The Act’s scope is limited to areas recorded as forests after October 1980. This exclusion may leave out significant forest land and biodiversity hotspots, allowing them to be sold, diverted, cleared, or exploited for non-forestry purposes.
  • State governments argue that forest conservation falls under the Concurrent List, implying roles for both the Center and States.
    • The amendments proposed in the Bill might shift the balance towards the Center, potentially impacting the rights and authority of State governments in forest conservation matters.

Also Read: The First Union Budget of India

Interim Order by the Supreme Court of India

On the 2nd of February 2024, the Supreme Court of India passed an order that mandates the States and Union territories (UT) must adhere to the definition of ‘forest’ established in the significant TN Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India judgment of 1996. 

Source: Down To Earth


In which year was the Forest Conservation Act amended?

The Forest Conservation Act was amended in the year 1988 and then in the year 2023. 

What is the Forest Conservation Act rule?

The Forest Conservation Act rules that the provisions made in the framework are for the State and the people of India. Moreover, the use of forests would be for the benefit of them.

How many sections are there in the Forest Conservation Act?

There are 5 sections in the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. 

Lastly, we hope you liked our blog and gained an understanding of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023. Moreover, you may even read more blogs and empower yourself with knowledge regarding Civics and Polity! 

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