Lawyers’ association makes objections to proposed Forest Act amendments

Joining the chorus against the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the All-India Lawyers’ Association for Justice (AILAJ), an association of lawyers, legal professionals and law students from across India, has written to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change with its objections.

Beginning with the procedural objections, the association has said that the consultation paper was issued at a time when India was just recovering from the massive COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a situation where key stakeholders to the proposed amendments were not in a situation to effectively respond.

“At this stage, the methodology adopted by the ministry to issue the consultation paper — firstly, only in English language; secondly, only in online mode; thirdly, without broadcasting widely in the press; and fourthly, without localised consultations with effected stakeholders — reveals a lack of inclination, let alone commitment, to any real consultative process. The initiation of such a consultative process in this manner is tantamount to non-consultation and is exclusionary of the vast majority of stakeholders,” the association said.

Referring to the manner of consultation as “violative” of the Pre-legislative Consultation Policy-2014, the association also said, “Moreover, as per the policy, the minimum period must be 30 days, whereas only 15 days were given here. Only after public criticism was the date extended to 30 days.”

Unfortunately, the response of the government has been “similarly opportunistic and undemocratic” throughout the pandemic in a host of arenas, the association alleged. “Whether it be through the draft proposal to amend the Environment Impact Assessment procedures that effectively render local communities voiceless, the suspension of operation of labour laws by various states at the expense of workmen, the dilution of land ownership laws allowing for easy takeover of agricultural land by corporations, or the attempt to overhaul the criminal law system, the pro-corporate and anti-people agenda of the government has been laid bare during this period,” it added.

Urging the government to “immediately withdraw” the consultative paper, the AILAJ has submitted paragraph-wise objections, including to those that speak of private land in forest areas and forest land acquired for infrastructure projects. “The paper states that a large number of forest land was acquired “long before 1980” by various ministries for non-forest purposes.... it is irrational to suggest that these large tracts of old forests must now be permitted to be deforested without permission for no reason. The exemption of these tracts from compliance with the law serves no discernible purpose, and nor has the same been justified in any way,” it said.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2022 9:34:40 am |