Six Opposition members file dissent notes on Forest Conservation Bill

MPs from Congress, Trinamool and DMK says new exemptions will leave out large tracts of land from the ambit of the conservation law 

Updated - July 12, 2023 08:48 am IST

Published - July 11, 2023 09:09 pm IST - New Delhi

The Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the monsoon session that starts on July 20. File Photo: Special arrangement

The Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the monsoon session that starts on July 20. File Photo: Special arrangement

At least six out of the 31 members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, have filed dissent notes, raising an alarm over exemptions extended to significant tracts of land in the draft legislation, even as the panel cleared the controversial Bill without proposing any changes.

The Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the monsoon session that starts on July 20.

The dissenting members are Congress MPs Pradyot Bordoloi (from the Lok Sabha) and Phulo Devi Netam (Rajya Sabha); Trinamool Congress MPs Jawahar Sircar (Rajya Sabha) and Sajda Ahmed (Lok Sabha); and DMK MPs T.R. Baalu and R. Girirajan. The Bill seeks to amend the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, that was brought in to check uncontrolled and unregulated use of forest land for various non-forestry uses.

Also read: Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 | Jungle book vs rule book 

Both the Congress and Trinamool members have raised objections to amendment that provides exemption for the lands, “situated within a distance of 100 km along international borders or Line of Control or Line of Actual Control,” for “construction of strategic linear projects of national importance and concerning national security”.

The Congress MPs noted that this clause could prove detrimental to significant forests in Himalayan, trans-Himalayan and north-eastern regions. Clearing such forests without proper assessment and mitigation plan will not only threaten the biodiversity of vulnerable ecological and geologically sensitive areas but also could trigger extreme weather events, they said. Mr. Sircar, the Trinamool MP, recommended that the State governments concerned should also be consulted before clearing the forests in such sensitive areas. He also recommended that instead of extending the exemption to all lands within a distance of 100 km along international borders, it should be limited to area along the “Himalayan” borders.

The Congress and Trinamool have also opposed the amendment that restricts the Forest Conservation Bill’s ambit only to the lands that are recorded as forests on or after October 25, 1980. The Congress argued that this amendment will leave out a significant section of the forest land, and many biodiversity hotspots can now be potentially sold, diverted, cleared and exploited for non-forestry purposes.

Not in favour of new name

Members from all the three parties dissented against the move to rename the Bill Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, instead of the existing Forest (Conservation) Act. Mr. Bordoloi noted that the new terminology leaves out non-Hindi speaking population, while DMK’s Girirajan, said that such “Sanskritic terminology is untenable”.

The DMK members also said that the amended Act infringed on the State government’s rights. Forests and its conservation come under the Concurrent List and the State government has administrative control over it, they said. “Therefore assigning all powers to the Central government infringes on the federal rights of the State governments,” Mr. Girirajan said.

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