Activists and political leaders oppose the proposed changes to the Forest (Conservation) Act

They voice concerns about the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill exempting certain projects, including those of “national importance and security”, from the purview of the Act

Published - May 19, 2023 10:56 pm IST - CHENNAI

The proposed changes to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, have caused concerns among environmental activists who say the amendments may dilute the mandate of forest protection.

In a joint statement demanding the withdrawal of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, activists and politicians raised concerns about the Bill exempting certain projects, including those of “national importance and security”, from the purview of the Act.

Vetriselvan Muthuraj, advocate, Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental organisation, feared that the exemption would also take away the rights of local communities and those living near forests as they would not be required to give clearance for projects as mandated under the Forest Rights Act. “The expansion of non-forest activities to include mineral surveys, establishment of communication lines and zoo safari could be detrimental to forest resources,” he told The Hindu.

The joint statement criticised the renaming of the Act as “Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam”. “By removing the word, ‘conservation’, and adding the word, ‘promotion’, it seems this amendment is meant to cut forests for commercial purposes,” it said.

Activists said that in Tamil Nadu, there are several hectares of privately owned forests in protected forest areas and tiger and elephant sanctuaries. “If these are excluded from the Forest (Conservation) Act, cash crops will be sown and trees will be felled for commercial purposes,” the statement said. It demanded that the draft be released in all 22 languages listed in the Constitution.

The statement was signed, among others, by veteran communist leader R. Nallakannu; Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi president Thol. Thirumavalavan; Congress MPs Su. Thirunavukkarasar and Jothimani; activist Medha Patkar; K. Kalidas of OSAI, an NGO; and Poovulagin Nanbargal.

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