ANI Photo | Centre to issue guidelines for use of forest land for non-forest purposes under new act: Official

The Center will issue a new set of guidelines to be followed by state governments for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes under exempted categories in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, an Environment Ministry official informed on Thursday.
The new act terminates the need for the central government’s approval for strategic linear projects, security-related infrastructure up to 10 hectares; or defence-related projects.
“We are working on a set of guidelines that will be out soon to ensure there is no misuse of these exemptions. The exemptions have been made for strategically important projects to make the approval process less cumbersome,” the official, on the condition of anonymity, told ANI.
When asked what all will be in the guidelines, the official explained: “The guidelines will mention what measures should be taken, conditions of planting trees and what would be counted as violations.”
Last month, the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill (2023) was passed by both houses of the Parliament.

The new act seeks to amend the decades-old Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
The amendments include the insertion of a Preamble to broaden the scope of the Act, changing the name of the Act to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980, the Ministry of Environment said last month in a statement.
Specific exemptions have also been passed which include exemption of strategic projects concerning national security located within 100 km of the International Borders, Line of Actual Control, Line of Control, 0.10 hectare of forest land proposed to provide connectivity to habitation and establishments located on the side of roads and railways, up to 10 ha of land proposed for security-related infrastructure, and up to 5 ha of forest land in Left Wing Extremism Affected Districts for public utility projects.
The official clarified that decisions regarding the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes were taken by the state government before 1980. The 1980 Act made it mandatory to obtain additional prior approval from the central government.
The act has drawn criticism from environmentalists who allege that the new act exempts unrecorded deemed forests from its provisions and that will lead to the destruction of forests.
With the amendments, all those forest lands that do not fall in the reserved area but are available in government records before 1980 will not come under the purview of the Act.
This diverts away from the Supreme Court’s 1996 verdict which had ensured every forest mentioned in government records gets legal protection against deforestation.
Critics argue that terms like ‘proposed’, ‘ecotourism facilities’, and ‘any other purposes’ can be exploited or misused for activities damaging forests and ecosystems in forest lands.
They also argue that plantations are a significant threat to Indian forests as they replace the natural ecosystems, affect soil quality, and particularly threaten the native biodiversity.
However, the official clarified that the land that is not registered as a forest under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act but any other government record as of or after October 1980 will also be considered a forest.
“The act mentions that the land that is mentioned as a forest by the revenue department, forest department, authority, and community or council documents will be considered as forest,” said the official

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