Amending Indian Forest Act
The draft prepared with focus on conservation and climate change is out to states seeking comments, discusses Ishan Kukreti
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). The 123-page draft provides definitions to important terms that were missing from the law.
The draft has been prepared based on the inputs of a core committee constituted by the ministry. On March 7, Inspector General of Forests (Forest Policy) Noyal Thomas sent a letter to all states seeking their comments. Each state has to conduct consultations with all its stakeholders, including non-profits and civil society organisations, and send the compiled feedback to the ministry by June 7.
The amendment defines 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".
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."
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".
The amendments specifically deal with the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA). The amendments say if the state government, after consultation with the central government, feels that the rights under FRA will hamper conservation efforts, then the state "may commute such rights by paying such persons a sum of money in lieu thereof, or grant of land, or in such other manner as it thinks fit, to maintain the social organisation of the forest-dwelling communities or alternatively set out some other forest tract of sufficient extent, and in a locality reasonably convenient, for the purpose of such forest dwellers".
The amendment also 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.
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