The Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of 1980, which, as the name suggests, came into being to conserve India’s forest cover, is proposed to be amended again (after 1988 and 1996) and made less stringent with the stated objective of expanding India’s green cover. State governments and other stakeholders have a November 1 deadline to respond to the Centre’s consultative paper floated on October 1.
The stated rationale of the proposed amendments is to incentivise plantation on private land. This, it is argued, is the only feasible way for India to meet its global environmental commitments, an important one being the creation of an additional 2.5-3 billion tonnes of ‘carbon sink’ by 2030—India’s NDC (nationally determined contribution) target. Meeting this target entails expansion of India’s tree cover from the present 21.6 per cent (as per the State of the Forest Report, 2019) to a third of the country’s geographical area. (‘Carbon sinks’ are reservoirs—natural or otherwise, such as vegetation and oceans—that store carbon compounds, thereby reducing the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere. They are vital in mitigating global warming.)
IT IS FEARED THAT CHANGES IN THE FCA WILL DISPOSSESS LOW SCALE USERS OF FOREST RESOURCES AND OPEN A WIDE BACKDOOR FOR COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION OF FORESTS
There are, however, additional reasons the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) proffers for the proposed amendments— facilitating ‘development projects’ and reducing imports of wood/ wood products, which cost an estimated Rs 45,000 crore in foreign exchange. The government also wants stakeholders to consider whether ‘strategic’ projects (such as development of infrastructure to secure international borders) or lands acquired for railways and highways before 1980 (when the FCA came into force) should require an FCA clearance.
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