The Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was approved by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. This bill introduces exemptions for land within a 100km radius of the border, which is required for national security projects, small roadside amenities, and public roads leading to human settlements. These exemptions will remove such lands from the purview of forest conservation laws.
The passage of the Forest Conservation bill followed a brief debate in the lower house of parliament. However, the session was adjourned for the day due to ongoing protests by opposition members concerning the violence in Manipur.
Under the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, entities seeking to de-reserve forest land or use it for other purposes must obtain prior permission from the central government. This applies to leasing forest land to private entities as well.
The government argued that new environmental concerns and shifting political priorities necessitate these legal changes. Among the priorities highlighted by the Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, are achieving net-zero emissions by 2070. The bill aims to address strategic and security-related projects near international borders and in regions prone to left-wing extremism.
The government also emphasized the importance of granting access to significant arterial highways, public utilities, and minor establishments along public roadways and railway lines. To safeguard against potential legal challenges, the bill incorporates provisions to protect biodiversity, promote forest expansion, and offer clarifications.
However, several state governments and civil societies have raised concerns about the bill, contending that it contradicts the Supreme Court’s 1996 judgment aimed at preventing deforestation. Critics also argue that using forest land for national security projects and providing exemptions for other purposes, such as zoos, may have adverse effects on the flora and fauna in those areas.
As the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, moves forward, the delicate balance between national priorities, environmental preservation, and ecological sustainability remains a critical aspect of the ongoing discussions.