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The Meghalaya government has amended a forest act inherited from the then composite Assam, which has proved to be “grossly inadequate over time” to deal with growing incidence of crimes in forest areas in the state.

“In the recent past, incidence of forest offences has increased considerably. Forest offences are now committed by organized groups with money and muscle power. The provisions of the Meghalaya Forest Regulation Act, 1973 (which is an adaptation of Assam Forest Regulation, 1891 Act), in the present form are not adequate to put an effective check on the activities of such offenders,” a government statement issued in the state assembly recently said.

“It is therefore considered necessary to amend the act so as to equip the officers of the forest department of Meghalaya with more powers to deal with such offenders effectively and to provide for stringent punishment for such offences,” read the statement of object and reasons for amendment of the act, which was moved by forest and environment minister, James Sangma and subsequently passed by the Meghalaya assembly.

“Forest officers need to be conferred with wider powers for the purpose of inquiring into a forest offence. A statutory provision needs to be inserted to render it obligatory for police in Meghalaya to assist forest personnel when requested, in the matter of detection and prevention of commission of forest offences,” the statement said.

“It is also necessary to provide for confiscation of tools, weapons, and conveyances of offence and lay down the procedure thereof along with forest produce, especially since most of the states in the country have similar provisions in their forest laws,” the statement pointed out, adding that the Supreme Court has invited the attention of the forest departments of the Northeast states for insertion of this provision in their respective legislations as has been done in other states, including Assam.

“Legal provisions need to be inserted to enable forest officers of the state to effectively investigate and prosecute forest offences at par with other states,” the statement said and also mentioned that the apex court had also directed that the state shall provide requisite security to the staff engaged in the preservation of forest wealth.

The statement said it is expedient to create provisions for summary trial for certain petty offences and render certain categories of offence bailable and certain others non-bailable considering the gravity of the offence.

“It is further desirable to enable the forest officer to seek prosecution of the offender under any other law for an act of omission or commission which constitutes a forest offence, which invites higher punishment or penalty than that provided by this act,” the statement said.

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