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Deemed Forest UPSC NOTE

 


Deemed Forest

  • ‘Deemed forest’ is forest land that has not been notified as such by the Centre or States.

  • Deemed forests, comprising about 1% of India’s forest land, are a controversial subject as they refer to land tracts that appear to be a “forest”, but have not been notified so by the government or in historical records.

  • The concept of deemed forests has not even been clearly defined in any law including the Forest Conservation Act 1980.

  • The Forest Act, 1980, now renamed as the Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam — translated as Forest Conservation and Augmentation — only accords protection to a forest that has been declared so in accordance with the provisions of the Forest Act, 1927 and also land that has been specifically notified as forest on or after October 25, 1980. 

  • In 1996, the Supreme Court expanded the remit of the Act to areas that were not notified as forest but conformed to the “dictionary” definition of forests.

  • The 1996 T N Godavarman Thirumulpad verdict by the Supreme Court enjoined States to bring in such unrecorded land that conformed to the ‘dictionary’ meaning of forest.

    • This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2 (1) of the Act and also includes any areas recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of the ownership.

  • The provisions for the conservation of forest and the matters connected therewith applies clearly to all forests irrespective of the ownership or classification.

  • The freedom to define which tracts of forest qualify as forest has been the prerogative of States since 1996.

  • However, this only applies to forest land that has not already been historically classified as “forest” in revenue records, or categorised so by the government as “protected” or “reserve forest”.

  • Protection under the Forest Act means that land cannot be diverted without the consent of the Centre as well as gram panchayats.

  • It also puts the onus on those diverting land to grow trees on an equivalent plot of land twice the razed area, along with a significant monetary penalty.

Expert committees:

  • The States were expected to form expert committees and identify plots of land that were encapsulated under this definition.

  • However not all States submitted these reports, leaving considerable leeway to States to define, or leave out large parcels of land from the definition of forest. 

  • The Ministry of Environment, which brought in the amendments, said the changes to the 1980 Act were necessary to remove ambiguities and bring clarity to where forest laws could be applied.

  • If notified forest land was legally diverted between 1980 and 1996, for non-forest use, the Forest Conservation Act would not apply, the amended Act says. 

  • In effect, this means that unless forest land was specifically notified as such it would cease to be protected.

  • However, the Environment Ministry clarified to a Joint Parliamentary Committee, constituted to examine provisions of the Bill, that the amendments did not fall afoul of the 1996 Supreme Court judgment.

Deemed Forest in Odisha

  • The Odisha government has sent a letter to district officials underlining that industry requests to divert forest land for non-forestry purposes now ought to conform with the amended Forest Act and that “deemed forests” as a category will cease to exist.

  • “The amended Act clearly specifies and defines forest. The concept of deemed forest is now removed”. The letter says.

  • The Odisha government, since 1996, had with the help of expert committees at the district level identified nearly 66 lakh acres as ‘deemed forest’.

  • But many of them were not officially notified as such in government records. This would be at least 40-50% of the State’s total forest land.

Concerns:

  • Nearly half of Odisha’s forest land was “deemed forest”, that the Odisha government’s interpretation of the Forest Act would end up accelerating the razing of forests. 

  • The Odisha government’s order likely conflicts with the Environment Ministry’s assurances to a parliamentary committee that “deemed forests” would continue to be protected.

  • What the new amendments mean is that there will be no check on forest diversion. 

  • It will be easier to divert forest land. 

  • The reality on the ground is that most of the forest officer bureaucracy isn’t too keen on protecting forest rights.

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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Deemed Forest UPSC NOTE
Deemed Forest UPSC NOTE
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