The Centre's move to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has evoked strong protest from environmental organisations.
The proposed amendments seek to restrict community access to forest resources while offering relaxations for commercial activities such as safaris, zoos, mining and other non-forest use on forest land.
N. Badusha, president, Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana samiti, an environmental organisation, said the Act was “the most powerful weapon” in the country to conserve the remaining 30% area of forest land. If the existing Act is amended, it would be the death knell for the remaining patches of forest in the country, he said.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF and CC) had invited comments and feedback on the proposals within a month of its release. But the one-month time limit was a breach of pre-legislative consultation policy, said Mr, Badusha.
Though several High Courts had directed to publish such notifications in local languages as well, the MoEF and CC published it only in English so far, he said.
P.A. Vinayan, president of Ferns Nature Conservation Society (FNCS), an NGO based in Wayanad, said if the amendments were effected, this would lead to massive destruction of forest land, resulting in desertification, water scarcity and decimation of the agriculture sector. As many as 14 amendments were proposed and each proposal had a doubletalk, he said.
When the document suggests shrinking the scope of the Act in the context of business and development, it talks of expanding the scope of the Act when it comes to community ownership over forest resources, he pointed out.
It offers full relaxation to businesses such as safaris, zoos, linear projects, mining and other non-forest use on forest land. Whereas, it restricts and tightens the scope for community access and centuries-old traditional ownership by local communities, Mr. Vinayan added.
The organisations sought the quick intervention of the State government in the issue.