Lok Sabha Passes Forest Conservation Bill to Strengthen Forest Preservation Efforts

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On July 26, the Lok Sabha passed the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill without making any changes from the version initially introduced on March 29. The purpose of this contentious Bill is to amend the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. For the past four decades, the 1980 legislation has granted the Centre the authority to ensure that any forest land diverted for non-forestry purposes is appropriately compensated. It extends its scope to include land beyond what is officially classified as ‘forest’ in State and Central government records.

The amendments made by the Bill, now approved by the Lok Sabha, contain specific clauses that determine the types of land where the original Act is not applicable. These amendments aim to promote the cultivation of plantations on non-forest land, which can eventually increase tree cover, serve as a carbon sink, and contribute to India’s aspiration of achieving ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2070. Additionally, the amendments seek to lift restrictions imposed by the Act to facilitate infrastructure development for national security and create livelihood opportunities for residents living on the outskirts of forests.

When the Bill was initially introduced, it faced objections on various aspects, prompting a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to conduct a comprehensive investigation. The JPC received nearly 1,300 representations from various groups, including tribal rights organizations and independent think-tanks, raising objections to certain clauses of the Bill. Despite these objections, the Bill has now been passed in its original form by the Lok Sabha.

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