What are deemed forests? Why is Karnataka Government releasing 6.64 lakh hectares of deemed forests?

The State Government of Karnataka recently announced that it will soon declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of 9.94 hectares of deemed forests in the state. This is around 67% of the deemed forest land.

What are deemed forests?

Deemed Forests are land tracts that appear to be forest but have not been notified as forest in historical records or government records. The deemed forests comprise 1% of forest land in India. In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered the states to identify and classify deemed forests.

The States have full liberty in defining the deemed forest. The Uttarakhand Government, in November 2019, defined deemed forests as the forest land with tracts of 10 hectares and having canopy density greater than 60%.

Why is Karnataka Government releasing 6.64 lakh hectares of deemed forests?

In 2014, an expert committee classified deemed forests in the state. According to the current State Government of Karnataka, some of the statutory forests were wrongly classified as deemed forest. It claims that the committee had used dictionary definition of forests and not scientific definitions in identifying deemed forests.

Role of Supreme Court

Since the Godavarman case judgement of Supreme Court in 1996, the State Governments should obtain permission from the Supreme Court for implementing changes to land that are classified as deemed forests. The judgement was pronounced based on the fact that, according to Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the preservation of forest areas are continuously monitored by the Supreme Court of India.

The State Government of Karnataka had earlier filed an application for exclusion of 5.18 lakh hectares of land under deemed forest category. Till now, the apex court has not passed an order on the application. A fresh application is to be filed by the State Government to release 6.64 hectares of deemed forest.

Recent Developments in Karnataka

Karnataka is to carve out a new district called Vijayanagara from the Bellari district to ease administration.

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