Forest Conservation Rules, 2022

[vc_section][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]1. Forest in India

According to the India State of Forest Report, 2021, the Total Forest and Tree cover is now 7,13,789 square kilometres, 21.71% of the country’s geographical area, an increase from 21.67% in 2019.


Forest Cover (Area-wise): Madhya Pradesh> Arunachal Pradesh> Chhattisgarh> Odisha> Maharashtra.

1.1. Category:

1.1.1. Reserved Forests:

Reserve forests are the most restricted forests and are constituted by the State Government on any forest land or wasteland which is the property of the Government.

In reserved forests, local people are prohibited, unless specifically allowed by a Forest Officer in the course of the settlement.

1.1.2. Protected Forests:

The State Government is empowered to constitute any land other than reserved forests as protected forests over which the Government has proprietary rights and the power to issue rules regarding the use of such forests.

This power has been used to establish State control over trees, whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products have revenue-raising potential.

1.1.3. Village forest:

Village forests are the one in which the State Government may assign to ‘any village community the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest’.

1.2. Degree of Protection:

Reserved forests > Protected forests > Village forests

1.3. Constitutional Provisions:

Through the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 Forests and Protection of Wild Animals and Birds were transferred from State to Concurrent List along with Education, Weights & Measures and Administration of Justice.

Article 48 A in the Directive Principles of State policy, mandates that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution states that it shall be the Fundamental Duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and Wildlife.

2. What are Forest Conservation Rules?

The Forest Conservation Act, 1982 is an act to provide for the conservation of forests. The act states that state governments cannot pass any order, except with the prior approval of the central government, to take away the tag of reserve forest from any forest area; to permit the usage of forest area for non-forest purposes; to assign any portion of forest land to non-governmental organisations including corporates; to clear of the forest land from the naturally grown trees for the purposes of re-afforestaton.

Section 3 of the act gives the central government the power to constitute an advisory committee to give it recommendations about the approvals or any other matter. Section 4 states that the government has the power to make rules to carry out the provisions of the act. Under this power given to the government, the Forest Conservation Rules, 198, Forest Conservation Rules, 2003 and Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 were enacted.

Forest Conservation Rules, 1981 had provisions for the constitution of an advisory committee that advises the central government on whether approvals to applications for diversion of forest area. The Rules also had provisions for members and the conditions the committee should consider while making its recommendations. The conditions, as stated by Rule 5 are–

“(a) Whether the forest land proposed to be used for non-forest purpose forms part of a nature reserve, national park, wildlife sanctuary, biosphere reserve or forms part of the habitat of any endangered or threatened species of flora and fauna or of an area lying in severely eroded catchment;

(b) Whether the use of any forest land is for agricultural purpose or for the rehabilitation of persons displaced from their residences by reason of any river valley or hydro-electric project;

(c) Whether the State Government or the other authority has certified that it has considered all other alternatives and that no other alternatives in the circumstances are feasible and that the required area is the minimum needed for the purpose; and

(d) Whether the State Government or the other authority undertakes to provide at its cost for acquisition of land or an equivalent area and afforestation thereof.”

Evidently, there is no mention of Adivasi/tribal rights (land or forest) or welfare or any requirement that this committee should look into the effect of a project on the tribals living in the concerned area.

The Forest Conservation Rules were again enacted in 2003 replacing the 1981 rules, and thereafter too, the rules were amended in 2004, 2014 and 2017.

The latest Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 replace the 2003 Rules.

3. What are the Provisions of Forest (Conservation) Rules,2022?

3.1. Formation of Committees:

It constituted an Advisory Committee, a regional empowered committee at each of the integrated regional offices and a screening committee at State/Union Territory (UT) government-level.

3.2. Advisory Committee:

The role of the Advisory Committee is restricted to advise or recommend with regards to grant of approval under relevant sections in respect of proposals referred to it and any matter connected with the conservation of forests referred to it by the Central government.

3.3. Project Screening Committee:

  • The MoEFCC has directed the constitution of a project screening committee in each state/UT for an initial review of proposals involving diversion of forest land.
  • The five-member committee will meet at least twice every month and will advise the state governments on projects in a time bound manner.
  • All non-mining projects between 5-40 hectares must be reviewed within a period of 60 days and all such mining projects must be reviewed within 75 days.
  • For projects involving a larger area, the committee gets some more time — 120 days for non-mining projects involving more than 100 hectares and 150 days for mining projects.

3.4. Regional Empowered Committees:

All linear projects (roads, highways, etc), projects involving forest land up to 40 hectares and those that have projected a use of forest land having a canopy density up to 0.7 — irrespective of their extent for the purpose of survey — shall be examined in the Integrated Regional Office.

3.5. Compensatory Afforestation:

The applicants for diverting forest land in a hilly or mountainous state with green cover covering more than two-thirds of its geographical area, or in a state/UT with forest cover covering more than one-third of its geographical area, will be able to take up compensatory afforestation in other states/UTs where the cover is less than 20%.

4. Why Are They Being Criticised?

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified the Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 under the Forest Conservation Act on 28 June, which will let private developers cut down forests without first ensuring the consent of the forest dwellers, a change that violates a provision of the Forest Rights Act.

The rules shift the Union government’s responsibility of taking consent of Adivasis before the approval of a project on to the state governments, which means that the burden to ensure the rights of Scheduled Tribes to their traditional forestlands also lands on the state governments.

Meanwhile, the new rules allow the union government to permit the clearing of a forest before consulting its inhabitants, making the consent itself fait accompli (leaving them with no option but to accept it).

4.1. Consent From Forest Dwellers Only After Centre’s Approval

Earlier, the Union government was required to verify the consent of the forest dwellers and ensure recognition of their rights over the forest before private projects could be approved.

Now, the handover of the forest can be approved and the Centre can collect payment for compensatory afforestation from the private developer even before the state government ensures consent of the forest dwellers.

This contradicts the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, or Forest Rights Act 2006.

The 2006 law requires governments to seek free, prior, and informed consent of forest dwellers before allowing a project on their traditional lands.

In order to ensure provisions of the Forest Rights Act were adhered to, the forest ministry had mandated through a circular in 2009, that the ministry check whether there are any ST claimants to the forestland, verify their claims and grant them ownership of the forestland well before the in-principle clearance is granted.

Only then, once the claims are settled, can the consent of forest dwellers be sought through the gram sabha, for the take over of their land.

The new rules essentially do way with this crucial process.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][/vc_section]

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