Government withdraws proposed changes to Indian Forest Act

Minister Prakash Javadekar said draft created misconception among people

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Friday 15 November 2019
Forest minister Javadekar addresses reporters. Photo: @PrakashJavdekar/Twitter
Forest minister Javadekar addresses reporters. Photo: @PrakashJavdekar/Twitter Forest minister Javadekar addresses reporters. Photo: @PrakashJavdekar/Twitter

The Union government was withdrawing the officers’ draft of the Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927 amendment, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) Prakash Javadekar told reporters on November 15, 2019.

Inspector General of Forests (Forest Policy) Noyal Thomas had sent a letter to all states on March 7 this year, seeking their comments on the first draft of the comprehensive amendments to the IFA.

Each state had to conduct consultations with all its stakeholders, including non-profits and civil society organisations, and send the compiled feedback to MoEF&CC by June 7.

Javadekar, however, said the government did not create the draft to amend the law, and there was confusion among people about what the draft was meant for.

“Eleven states have created their own forest laws. A study was done to see if they can be improved. But people thought this study was the government’s draft to amend the Indian Forest Act. The government has no such intention,” Javadekar said.

He added the government was withdrawing the draft circulated among stakeholders. 

The amendments had drawn a lot of criticism from tribal organisations as it gave forest officers the power to shoot people and notify any area as ‘production forests’ among other issues. 

Interestingly, while the government is withdrawing the draft, Telangana is ready with a Telangana state forest act amendment along the lines of the Central draft.

“Would Telangana be repeated in other states? The MoEF&CC should now issue a written notification that they are withdrawing the draft. Otherwise, it is a political gimmick for the upcoming state elections like Jharkhand,” CR Bijoy said.

Bijoy represents the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national forum for forest dwellers which was active in getting the Forest Rights Act implemented in 2006.

Speaking to reporters, Javadekar also said forest dwellers help in conserving forests and the government was trying to protect their rights. 

In 2015, the National Democratic Alliance government set up the TSR Subramanian Committee to suggest changes in India’s forest governance. One of its key recommendations was to amend the IFA, 1927.

Earlier, the MB Shah Commission too suggested amendments in 2010.

From the onset, the process to amend the IFA has been shrouded in secrecy. On September 23, 2016, the MoEF&CC constituted a committee dominated by forest bureaucrats.

It comprised the principal chief conservators of forests of four states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Manipur; the then Inspector General of Forest Rekha Pai; the then Deputy Inspector General of Forest (forest policy) Noyal Thomas, and Assistant Director General (Wildlife) MS Negi.

The three non-government members were Ravi Singh, secretary general, World Wide Fund for Nature, Shankar Shrivastava, MoEF&CC counsel in the Bhopal branch of the National Green Tribunal and Sanjay Upadhyay, a Supreme Court lawyer.

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