Forest conservation
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This article has been written by Harshita Varshney, from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. Forests play an important role in our life. They provide us with various valuable resources like oxygen and raw material for different products. But humans are clearing the forests at an infinite rate. So to regulate such inhuman activities towards the forests the Government of Indian enacted the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The author has tried to analyse the provisions of this act and how the provisions of this act are addressing the problems related to the forests. 

Introduction

Forests are one of the precious resources that nature provides. The whole ecosystem is dependent on the forests as they are an important part of natural habitat. So, it should be our prime duty to preserve them and not harm the cycle of our nature. But the forests of our nature are being cut at an alarming rate. People have become so greedy that they have started clearing the entire forests. Therefore, to stop this rapid deforestation the Central government enacted the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

History

The first legal draft on this issue was the Indian Forest Act, 1865. Later, it was replaced by the Indian Forest Act, 1927 during the colonial period. Whenever any law gets passed, it carries the hope that it will address the social issue for which it was passed. When the Indian Forest Act, 1927 was passed, it carried the same hope but it was solely confined to British interests. 

The main focus of the Act of 1927 was on timber. The Act of 1927 was divided into the 13 chapters and consisted of the 86 Sections. It gave power to the State to control the rights of tribal people to use forests. Under this Act, the government was also empowered to create reserved forests. It aimed to regulate the forest produce and to levy taxes on timber and other forest produce, which later became the source of revenue for the government. It never aimed to protect the forests of the country and just wanted to regulate the cutting of timber and other raw materials used in the industries.

After independence, the need to conserve the forests became more strong and therefore, the President of India enforced the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980. The ordinance was later repealed by virtue of Section 5 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 which came into force on October 25, 1980. It was passed to protect the forests of the country and the matters related to it. It also covers the issues which were not addressed by the previous Act. Under the 1980 Act, the restriction was made on the use of the forests for non-forest purposes. 

Constitutional mandate for forest conservation

When the Constitution of India was adopted in 1950, the framers were not aware that in future the issues related to forest conservation may arise. This was realised later as the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976 was made and Article 48A was added to the part of Directive Principles of State Policy and Article 51A as a fundamental duty of every citizen of India. 

As per Article 48A, the state shall make laws to protect and improve the environment to safeguard the forests of our country.

According to Article 51A(g), it is the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including the forests of our country. 

Objective

The trees in the forest don’t only provide us with oxygen for breathing they do a lot more than that. They also provide us with some useful products like wood and food. Forests are an important part of our nature, they maintain the entire ecosystem and water cycle of the earth. 

The object of the Act is to maintain ecology and to preserve the forest of our country. It is also the object of this Act to regenerate the forests by planting trees and increase the forest growth in our country.

  1. To protect the forest, its flora, fauna and other diverse ecological components.To protect the integrity, territory and individuality of the forests.
  2. To protect the forests and prevent deforestation that will lead to land erosion and subsequent degradation of the land. 
  3. To prevent the loss of forest biodiversity.
  4. To prevent the conversion of forests into agricultural lands, or grazing lands, or building of business or residential units.

Features

This Act has the following features: 

  1. This Act has made the restrictions on the State government and other authorities to make decisions in some matters without the prior permission of the central government.
  2. Under this Act, the whole power is in the hand of the Central government to carry out the laws of this Act.
  3. This Act also provides penalties for the infringement of the provisions of this Act. 
  4. Under this Act, an advisory committee may be formed for advising the Central government in matters related to forest conservation. 

Some pertinent sections

Section 1: Title and scope

Section 1 of the Act talks about its title, scope and commencement. This Act is known as the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. This law applies to the whole country except Jammu and Kashmir. Although, Article 370 has been revoked which means all central laws must be made applicable to the whole country. However, as of now, only 37 laws apply to Jammu and Kashmir and this Act is not included under these 37 laws. This law came into force on October 25, 1980. It replaced the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980 and contains similar provisions. 

Section 2: Restrictions on dereservation of forests and its non-forests use

This Section restricts the state governments and other authorities to make laws in the following matters without the prior permission of the Central government:

  • that they cannot dereserve any forest land or any portion of it reserved under any law for the time it being enforced in the State or any other part;
  • that the forest land or any portion of it cannot be used for non-forest purposes;
  • that they can not assign any forest land or any portion of it by way of lease to any private person, or anybody or organisation not controlled by the Government of India;
  • that a forest land or any part of it grown naturally may be cleared for the reafforestation.

The explanation of this section defines the term “non-forest purposes”. It means cleaning any forest land or its portion for the purpose of:

  • Planting tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing, plants, or medicinal plants;
  • Or for any purpose other than afforestation, but it should not include any work related to preservation, evolution and administration of forests and wildlife. 

Section 3: Advisory committee

As per Section 3 of this Act, the Central government has the power to constitute an advisory committee to advice on matters related to the 

  • approving as under Section 2 of this Act;
  • or any matter referred by the Central government, connected with the preservation of forests.

Section 3A: Penalties

This Section 3A was added by the amendment made in 1988. According to this section, whoever violates or abets the violation of any law contained under Section 2 shall be punished with simple imprisonment for any prescribed term which may increase up to 15 days. 

Section 3B: Offences by authorities and government offices

This Section 3B was also added by the amendment made in 1988. This section talks about the offences committed by the Authorities and the government Department. 

According to section 3B(1), whenever any offence under this Act is committed by any department of the government, head of the government, any authority or any person who at the time of the commission of the offence was responsible for the conduct of business, shall be made liable for the offence under the Act.  

However, the same person can save himself by proving that the offence was committed without his knowledge and also, he took all the possible measures to prevent the commission of the offence. 

According to section 3B(2), when an offence under this Act has been committed by a person other than the department of the government, head of the government or the authority mentioned under sub-section 1, with his consent or due to his negligence, then such persons shall be declared guilty under the Act and also be made liable to proceedings and punishments. 

Section 4: Rulemaking power

Under Section 4, the Central government has the power to carry out the laws prescribed under this Act, by notifying in the official gazette. Before forming any rule, it should be presented before both houses of the parliament for a period of thirty days. Both the houses of the parliament shall agree to do the modification or form the new rule under the Act. 

Section 5: Repeal

This section of the Act repealed the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980.

Important case laws

The judiciary has also played an important role in conserving the forests and protecting our environment by way of entertaining different Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed under Article 32 and Article 226 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court and the High Courts have delivered various important judgements regarding the protection of the forests and environment while entertaining the PILs.

Tarun Bharat Singh v. Union of India (1993)

In the instant case, a voluntary organisation approached the Supreme Court through a PIL filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The petition was against the illegal mining going on in the reserved area of the Alwar District. Despite the fact that the area was reserved under the Act, the state government had granted hundreds of licences for mining marble. The Court held that whenever an area is declared as the protected forest it comes within the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act and now, the State government cannot carry on any non-forest activity in the reserved area without the prior permission of the Central government. As mining is a non-forest activity, the State government’s action to grant a licence for mining or renewing their licence for mining is contrary to law. An interlocutory direction was also passed to the State government and the mine owners to stop the illegal activity in the reserved area.

State of MP v. Krishnadas Tikaram (1994)

In this case, the respondents were granted the mining lease of limestone in the forest area in the year of 1966 for a period of 20 years. In 1986, after its expiry, the respondents approached the State government for its renewal. The State government passed the orders to renew the lease for further 20 years. The Forest Department cancelled this order. This cancellation was challenged before the Supreme Court of India. The Court held that under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, the state cannot grant or renew the licence without the prior approval of the Central government. Therefore, the cancellation of the order was properly made. 

Krishnadevi Malchand Kamathia v. Bombay Environmental Action (2011)

In this case, an application was filed by the District collector to initiate the contempt proceedings against the appellants for violating the orders to the court. The court had issued directions to remove the newly constructed bund so that seawater can come in to protect the mangrove forests. The order tried to restrain the appellants from indulging in any activity which will harm the mangrove forests. The appellants have the licence to manufacture salt at the place. The Supreme Court held that the manufacturing of salt by solar evaporation of seawater is not permitted in the area as that area is home to the mangrove forests. The mangrove forests are of great ecological importance and are also ecologically sensitive and that is why they fall under the category of CRZ-I (Coastal Regulatory Zone-I). The Coastal Area Classification and Development Regulations, 1991 classifies the Coastal Regulatory Zone, and according to it, the manufacturing of salt is prohibited. 

Conclusion

The forests are very important to our nature as they maintain the ecological balance. But, a  frightening rate of deforestation all over the country has started causing ecological imbalances and harm to our environment. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 was passed with the aim to protect the forests by controlling the rates of deforestation. 

The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into force on October 25, 1980. This Act was enforced to protect the forests of our country. Forests are an important part of our nature, it maintains the whole ecosystem and water cycle of the earth. This Act was enforced to maintain ecology and to preserve the forest of our country. This Act also aims to regenerate the forests by planting trees and increase forest growth in our country.

Under the Act, the central government is vested with powers to make any new rule or to make any changes in the existing laws. It has put restrictions on the state government to make any decisions related to forests’ matters mentioned in the Act without prior permission of the central government. It has also prescribed penalties for those who contravene any provision of this Act. The Act has also prescribed for the proceedings when the offences are committed by the government departments and officials. Under this Act, the Central government has also power to form an advisory government to advise the government in matters related to forests. 

References


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