As we all know India is diverse regarding its flora and fauna. There are more than 47,000 plants and 81,000 animal species in India. Along with the Indian citizens, all that huge number is the responsibility of our executive, legislative, and judiciary. However, Indian forest laws are conflicting and contradictory in nature and the major reason behind it is the dilemma between modernization and advancement of society and the conservation of natural resources. The issues with the forest laws include:
- Conflicts between tribal and Forest Conservation Laws.
- Lacks a uniform law, which can reduce the modern conundrums of Forest Laws.
- Negligence in the democratic decentralization of forest governance.
- Proper Execution of Laws
Definitions of Forest
- The Definition of Forest according to the Indian Forest Act is, “An area held by the Government for conservation and management of biological and ecological resources is known as Forest”.
- According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the Definition of Forest is “a large area of land surrounded with trees and plants, generally larger than a wood, or the trees and plant”.
Evolution of Forest Laws in India
- In the year 1856, Lord Dalhousie emphasized the requirement for a definite forest policy. Later in 1865 the first Indian Forest Act, 1865 was introduced which asserted the colonial rule over forests in India. (Wikipedia)
- In 1927, The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was introduced which was barely about the conservation of Indian Forests.
Post- Independence Policies
- After the independence, in 1952, after the inspection of the forest policy, the government of India conveyed the National Forest Policy of Independent India.
- In the year 1980, Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed for the prevention of deforestation. After 8 years, the National Forest Policy was introduced for the management of forests. ( civil daily)
- The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Environmental Protection Act, 1986 had also provided support for the protection of forests.
- In 2006, the Schedule Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) were proclaimed to protect marginalized citizens of socio-economic classes and stabilize their environmental rights and right to life and livelihood. (The Hindu)
- In 2018, the GOI released the draft National Forest Policy, 2018 which addressed the new challenges that the country had faced in the recent past regarding the Environment.
- In the year 2019, the Indian Forest Act, 2019 was designed as an amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The purpose of the amendment was to address the current challenges of Indian Forests. (The Hindu) This Act wasn’t supported by the citizens because it eases the rules in favor of industries, so, eventually; the government had to withdraw the act.
- According to an article of Scroll in, recently, on April 8, 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change called pronouncement of Interest for shortlisting consultancy organizations that could produce a draft comprehensive amendment to the 1927 Act.
Contradiction of Forest Rights Act, 2006
India doesn’t lack environmental laws; it has an abundance of laws, such as the Wildlife Protection Act, Indian Forest Act, Forest Rights Act, etc. While the Forest Rights Act has assured rights to forest-dwelling communities, the forest department is frequently using forest and wildlife agencies to upbraid forest-dwelling communities, who are often charged with uncertified exploitation of forest resources under the Indian Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. (The Wire)
Because of this legal floodgate, forest rights, extending from the right to harvest non-wood products to grazing, can continue to be punished by the forest administration within the framework of the Indian Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. According to the Wire, Environmental crime data show that 77 percent of all environmental crime is committed under IFA and 17.4 percent under the WLPA.
However, Gujarat High Court clarifies the object and scope of the Forest Right Act in the case of, Action Research In vs. As Common, Gujarat High Court stated that “It goes without saying that the act of 2006 is a social law and the legislative intent is to protect the rights of scheduled tribes dwelling in the forest. The object of such welfare measures is to ensure a better, more efficient, and more meaningful life. The main role of the Court in interpreting the provisions of this law is to take a constructive approach to achieve the purpose of the law; any other interpretation that goes in opposition to the very purpose of the act is prohibited by law”
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980
The Forest Conservation Law was introduced to provide a towering level of protection to the forests and to manage the distinction of forest lands for non-forestry purposes. The act was further amended in 1988. This act comprises total ban deforestation and prior permissions from the Central Government for mining and infrastructure.
In the landmark Judgement of T.N Godavaram Thirumulpad vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court has left the conventional role of interpreter behind. The Supreme Court has enhanced the coverage of FCA to all areas that meet with the dictionary definition of Forest; before that only land particularly notified as forests were protected by the law. This historic case is also known as “the Forest case in India”.
However, According to the Data of Global Forest Watch, since 1980, India has averted 1.5 million hectares of forest land for development objectives.
The major issues concerning forest conservation are:
- India is now, one of the World’s largest importers of timber, and between 1994- 2006, timber import increased over 16 times (Global Forest Watch)
- The act has failed to achieve support from the public as it has infringed the Human Rights of Native people.
- Lack of technology that is required to enforce the act.
- The act has centralized the forest powers, which means transferring the power to the state from the Central government.
It is not easy to choose between Protection of Forests and Modernization of Society. India has witnessed a bunch of forest laws after independence, with the objective of the limited industrial use of forests. Although, each law was supposed to maintain the legislature of Forest Management; however, the contradictory nature of these laws created major conundrums in the Forest Legislature. Particularly, the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the Indian Forest Act, 1926 are majorly contradictory to each other, which have created many conflicts in Forest Laws. The main reason for this conflict is the Forest laws are not uniform. Even though in 1996, the Supreme Court tried to distinguish between the given acts; however, the parliament has failed to distinguish between all laws regarding Forests and remained chaotic in nature. Currently, India desperately requires proper forest laws.