Rajya Sabha passes Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill

New Delhi: India working on future infra in way that our forests are not disturbed and connectivity and connection can also go rapidly, Yadav said

BY | Wednesday, 2 August, 2023

Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, which exempts land within 100 kilometres of the country’s borders from the purview of conservation laws and permits setting up of zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities in forest areas.

The Upper House passed the Bill after a brief debate, though opposition members had walked out over the ethnic violence in Manipur.

The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on July 26.

During the debate, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said the Bill exempts certain types of land such as forest land along a rail line or a public road maintained by the government and providing access to a habitation or a rail and roadside amenity up to a maximum size of 0.10 hectares.

“India is working on future infrastructure in a way that our forests are not disturbed and connectivity and connection can also go rapidly,” Yadav said.

Exempted forest land includes land situated within 100 kilometres of international borders, Line of Control and Line of Actual Control, and proposed to be used for the construction of strategic linear projects for national security.

The Bill also exempts land up to 10 hectares proposed to be used for constructing security-related infrastructure, land proposed to be used for defence-related projects or paramilitary forces’ camps and public utility projects, as specified by the Centre, not exceeding 5 hectares in a left wing extremism-affected area.

Yadav said tribals and forest dwellers are getting 5 acres of land so that basic amenities like schools, dispensaries and water tank, etc. can be made for the inclusive development of all.

The Bill empowers the central government to specify, by order, the terms and conditions subject to which any survey, such as reconnaissance, prospecting, investigation or exploration including seismic survey, shall not be treated as non-forest purpose.

“The intention of this bill is to declare zoo and eco-tourism as a non-forest activity. We want to create an atmosphere where local people will be able to generate an income and they will participate in more and more eco-tourism activities. They have traditional knowledge about all wild animals,” Yadav said.

During the discussion, BJP member Sushil Modi said the time for forest clearance for various projects has been reduced to 180 days and the process should be further expedited.

YSRCP’s S Niranjan Reddy requested the government to enforce restrictions in the strictest manner for forest conservation.

Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) MP Hishey Lachungpa requested to unclassify land meant for public utility purposes from the purview of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 and transfer it to the state.

In response to Lachpunga, Yadav said the classification of land for forest is still done by state governments.

AIADMK leader M Thambidurai said former prime minister Indira Gandhi took a lot of power from the state governments and brought it to the Centre during the Emergency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an understanding of states’ problems as he has served as the chief minister of a state, he said.

Thambidurai said humans are not allowed to encroach on forest land and a similar mechanism should be developed to check the entry of wild elephants in villages near forests.

“We are concerned about the protection of elephants and not human beings. That is our fate now. We have to preserve our animals. That is our policy… if we cannot encroach on their land, then they should not encroach on our land,” he said.

Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar) member G K Vasan also raised concern over wild animals’ movement in human habitation near forests.

BJP members Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, Dineshchandra Jemalbhai Anavadiya, Ajay Pratap Singh and Ramilaben Becharbhai Bara also participated in the discussion.

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