EnvironmentPolicy Matters



With the JPC clearing all contentious amendments proposed in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment (FCA) Bill, 2023, activists and experts say this will sound the death knell for the remaining fragile forests of India. The bill is expected to get the nod from Parliament in the Monsoon session.

Presently, out of 21 percent of India’s land under forests, the country only has a meagre 12.37 percent of intact natural forests (that is moderately dense and very dense forests).

In this background, ecologists and environmentalists opine the FCA bill is not an amendment but an entirely new act which will destroy our remaining forests and natural ecosystems.

Despite notes of dissent and wide opposition from experts, tribal communities, state governments, social & environmental groups, and former forest officials, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) ignored the larger sentiments of protecting our forests despite the ambitious national target of “Net Zero Emission” by 2070.

Further, the JPC has approved all controversial amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which will pave the way for massive clearances and diversion of forests.

In an appeal to the Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change, experts said, “The Forest Conservation Amendment (FCA) Bill will put our ecology severely in danger by declassifying 197,159 sq. km of forests, which is 15% of India’s forest cover. This will make it lose protection and leaving it open for destruction through afforestation, drilling, replacing forests with zoos, among other things.”

The FCA bill, 2023 will also exempt many projects from the clearance process which will mean that forest dwelling people will no longer be consulted, experts add.

They add, “This Bill is extremely worrisome for the kind of danger it brings to the Indian land and soil. Many scientists, civil servants, environmentalists, students and politicians have already sent their objections and it is time we did too.”

Other provisions of the Bill include allowing forest lands within 100 kms of the country’s borders to be used for ‘strategic linear projects of national importance and concerning national security’.

As per FCA Bill, 2023, the proposed 100-km-stretch would cover all the north-eastern States and include Sikkim and Uttarakhand – states which have the highest forest cover in the country and are also biodiversity hotspots.

India is one of only 17 mega-diverse countries in the world with more than 5000 endemic species of plants and animals. This Bill threatens all this biodiversity, they stress.

Nearly 688 ecologists across the country have appealed to Members of Parliament for complete stoppage of the bill.

Appealing to them and Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav, ecologists said, “We are writing to highlight again the many issues in the Bill and to urge MPs and ministers to reconsider this move. We strongly believe that the present Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 along with the judgment in the Supreme Court order in WP 202/9 together provide a strong basis for the protection of natural ecosystems, and require better and effective implementation.”

As the devastating impacts of climate change and environmental degradation become clearer, highlighted in the recent floods across north India, this is the time for the government to reaffirm its commitment to protecting the country’s immense biodiversity, they state.

“In fact, the need of the hour is strengthening forest protection laws and the rights of indigenous peoples to own and manage their lands. However, this amendment will only seek to hasten the decline of India’s natural forests. For these and other reasons, we urge you to vote against the amendment when it is tabled in Parliament,” they appealed to members of both houses.