MOEFCC must withdraw consultation paper on amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India recently issued a consultation paper proposing a set of amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, inviting public comments until November 1. These amendments focus on promoting private forestry and exempting it from the scope of forest clearance altogether. This, instead of making the forest clearance process more effective and strengthening the power of the Gram Sabha under constitutional and statutory provisions, including the Forest Rights Act, to grant consent for forest diversion.
These are moves that had already been criticised when they were proposed under the TSR Subramanian Committee Report on reforming forest and environmental laws in 2014, and also under the Draft National Forest Policy 2018. Parliamentary Standing Committees came out with detailed reports that rejected the TSR Subramanian Report and the draft policy.
The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India and a broad array of environmental and community rights activists had also rejected both the Report and the draft Policy. CEJI again categorically demands that the MOEFCC withdraw the proposed amendments.
Statement Issued by the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India
Mr. Bhupender Yadav,
Hon’ble Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
Government of India
Mr. Ashwini Kumar Choubey,
Hon’ble Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Government of India
Mr. Sandeep Sharma
Assistant Inspector General of Forests.
Dear Mr. Yadav, Mr. Choubey, and Mr. Sharma,
We write in response to the drastic and retrograde changes proposed in the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, and that by way of a ‘Consultation Paper’ issued on 2nd October 2021, by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. While we appreciate the effort at transparency in formulating amendments to legislation (which is unprecedented for the Ministry), we demand that the Consultation Paper must be withdrawn as it is in contradiction to the prevailing National Forest Policy, 1988.
The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI), a nation-wide collective of peoples’ movements, forest peoples’ and workers’ struggle organizations, academics, researchers, civil society organizations, etc., came together to comprehensively reject the Draft National Forest Policy 2018 (DNFP) promoted by the Ministry. The major reasons for rejecting the said draft were that:
1. It comprehensively violated the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 which pursuant to the enactment of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 require that any changes in laws and policies relating to forests must only be undertaken with due consent of and in collaboration with Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
2. The policy had been promoted without the participation of the State and Local Governments and autonomous agencies such as the National Biodiversity Authority, as is required by the Constitution of India and various enactments.
3. The policy was designed to defeat the fundamental features of the Forest Rights Act.
4. The policy made no serious effort to comprehend the risks latent to India’s forests due to weak implementation of existing environmental protection and pollution control laws, and the continuing lack of protection of natural ecosystems like grasslands and wetland ecosystems which are also biodiversity-rich and play a substantial role in supporting livelihoods and carbon sequestration.
These and several other related concerns were brought to the attention of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests. The august body deemed it necessary to consider those concerns in great depth, held consultations and by way of its 324th Report recommended as follows:
“The Committee recommends that Ministry of Tribal Affairs must be taken on board for wider consultation along with State Governments / Local Bodies / NGOs / Civil society members before finalizing the Draft Forest Policy and notifying it. Further, adequate safeguards must be taken for the protection of vulnerable forest communities such as tribals and other communities who are dependent on the forest for their sustenance and survival. ” (Para: 10.24; Emphasis in original.)
It is clear, therefore, that the committee speaking for the Parliament of India laid out the terms for undertaking any changes in policies and laws related to forests and forest rights.
In this context, we express our deep dismay that the executive wing of the Ministry now seeks to achieve the same retrograde objectives which the DNFP failed to secure. As there are no substantive differences between the DNFP and the Consultation Paper proposals, we reiterate what we shared in our earlier statement regarding the DNFP:
“Forests are the sovereign property of the peoples of this country and we will not allow our forests to be forfeited. We will never allow them to be privatized. We will not allow ill-thought policies like this draft forest policy, motivated to exploit nature for private profit, to take root in this biologically diverse country. We will not allow the displacement of millions that will follow due to such myopic and ill-informed thinking by a few based in the nation’s capital. We are deeply concerned that the draft policy promotes interventions that might exacerbate prevailing socio-economic distress, spread discontent and result in unprecedented destruction of our biodiversity. ”
Therefore, we have no reservation whatsoever in demanding that the Consultation paper be withdrawn.
We also take this opportunity to remind the Ministry that the country has a hoary tradition of reflecting the complex roles that forests and other such ecosystems play in the cultural, economic, social and ecological dynamics of the country. The prevailing National Forest Policy, 1988, for instance, acknowledges this and unequivocally lays down the primacy of protecting forests:
“2.2 The principal aim of Forest Policy must be to ensure environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance including atmospheric equilibrium which are vital for sustenance of all lifeforms, human, animal and plant. The derivation of direct economic benefit must be subordinated to this principal aim. ”
Without doubt, legislative efforts must aim to ensure a robust and people-centered regime for the protection of the environment and forests and traditional rights associated with the same. They must be undertaken with necessary and meaningful consultations with local and state governments, forest rights committees, biodiversity management committees, civil society, academia, etc. We would be most willing to assist the Ministry and its various agencies in developing a process that would promote such an environmental and forest protection regime, which could also serve in plugging glaring loopholes that persist now in relation to lack of protection of grasslands, wetlands, coastal and mountain commons, deserts, etc., which support millions of livelihoods, such as agro-pastoralists and fishers, in the country, and further India’s ecological,
We invite the Ministry to take all steps essential to secure our forests and natural ecosystems, and to genuinely work to rejuvenate India’s devastated environmental landscape. We also draw the attention of the Ministry to the following extract from the Report of the Committee for Recommending Legislative Measures and Administrative Machinery for Environmental Protection, 1980:
Sec 3.16 (p.24):
“The Committee would like to emphasize that at present the greed of commercial interests and their lack of concern for the future, as well as the genuine needs of the poor for essential articles of daily need such as fuel and fodder, contribute to the denudation of forests and vegetation thereby to the degradation of the environment. Legislative measures should be devised to curb the degradation caused by profit motive through severe punishment, while appropriate steps should be taken to meet the needs of those below the poverty line for fuel and fodder. The Committee hence recommends the inclusion of fuel and fodder supply in the Minimum Needs Program and is happy to note the announcement of the Finance Minister in the budget speech for 1980-81 Central budget that Government intends to make arrangements for including these items in the Minimum Needs Program. Unless the basic human needs are met, the foundation necessary for building the edifice of eco-development will be missing and punitive measures alone will not take us to the desired goal. ”
3 thoughts on “MOEFCC must withdraw consultation paper on amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act”
(1) All law-making, policy-framing etc. in connection with the forests of our country must be done only after consultations with the tribal people of the concerned area.
(2) The NGOs and the academicians who are working in connection with the livelihood of the people connected with the forests must not be kept aside and afar.
(3) Any new law, any new policy, whatsoever, should not be allowed to function/get implemented without the consent of the local GramSabha/Gram Panchayat under constitutional and statutory provisions.
(4) In relation with protecting forests, grasslands, wetlands, coastal areas, mountain zones, deserts etc. of our country if one ministry is taking such thoughtless and blunt steps, if the policy makers and the executives are ready to blatantly harm our biodiversity and our ecosystem, then how can we trust the other policy makers and the other executives in the same governmental system?
Gram Sabha land is village common land. Can’t be usurped by changing the ‘chaukhamba raj’ (4 pillars of democracy) principals. This recommendation is totally unjustified and must be opposed.
We must protect Forest for our survival.