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The Implications of the Forest (Conservation) Act Amendment for Northeast India

(SYLLABUS RELEVANCE: GS 3: Environment and Biodiversity)

Why is it in the news?

  1. The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023, has raised concerns in Northeast India due to its potential impact on forest land diversion.
  2. The amendment allows such diversion for various projects near international borders without the need for forest clearances under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

Opposition by Northeastern States

  1. On August 22, the Mizoram Assembly unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, citing the need to protect the rights and interests of the people of Mizoram.
  2. Other northeastern states, including Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim, have also expressed opposition to the 100-km exemption clause.

Constitution Protections

  1. Article 371A for Nagaland and 371G for Mizoram provide special constitutional protections, prohibiting the application of laws enacted by Parliament that interfere with customary laws, land ownership, and transfer of land and resources.
  2. Such laws can be extended to these states only through resolutions passed by their Legislative Assemblies.

Application of FCA in Northeast

  1. Nagaland had initially extended the application of the Forest (Conservation) Act to certain government forests but later received conflicting guidance from the Home Ministry.
  2. Mizoram, on the other hand, had the FCA applied to the state following its transformation into a full-fledged state in 1986.
  3. The FCA applies in the rest of Northeastern states, including Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, and Assam.

Forest Land Diversion under FCA

  1. Since 1980, over a million hectares of forest land have been diverted under the Forest (Conservation) Act.
  2. The FCA expanded the definition of “forest land” in 1996 to include areas recorded as forest in government records, encompassing unclassed forests, which are a significant portion of Northeastern forests.

Forest Rights and FRA

  1. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA) 2006 recognizes various types of forest lands, including unclassified forests.
  2. Implementation of FRA varies across Northeastern states, with Assam and Tripura being the most compliant.
  3. Mizoram initially extended FRA but later declared it irrelevant due to a lack of claims for rights.

Impact of Recent Changes

  1. The 2022 Forest Conservation Rules shifted FRA compliance from the in-principle stage to the final clearance stage.
  2. States now have the responsibility to ensure FRA compliance and Gram Sabha consent before recommending forest land diversion.
  3. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs can issue enforceable directions under FRA or enact separate laws to recognize and settle forest rights when forests are diverted and forest-dwellers are relocated.

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