The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 was passed by the Parliament of India to help conserve the country’s forests. It has played a vital role in curbing large-scale deforestation across India.
Background and Need
India’s forest cover had been steadily depleting since independence due to reasons like agricultural expansion, developmental projects, mining activities etc. The 1927 Indian Forest Act was primarily focused on meeting British commercial interests rather than forest conservation. Hence, the need for a stricter legislation emerged to preserve forest ecosystems and biodiversity.
This led to the enforcement of the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance in 1980, which was later replaced by the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. The act aimed to restrict and regulate the de-reservation of reserved forests and diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
The objectives of the legislation are:
- Conserve and preserve forest ecosystems, biodiversity, lands and its resources
- Prevent unchecked deforestation across the country
- Regulate use of forest land only for approved forestry related purposes
- Check conversion of forest area into agricultural farms, factories, grazing lands etc.
Restriction on De-reservation of Forests
De-reservation of reserved forests by state governments requires prior approval from Central Government.
Regulation of Diversion of Forest Land
The diversion of forest land for mining, development projects, agriculture etc. also needs approval from Central Government before state governments can permit such activities.
The Central Government can constitute a multi-disciplinary committee comprising experts to advise on preservation of forests and approval/rejection of proposals for de-reservation and diversion of forest land.
Penalties for Violations
The act imposes penalties and punishments for violating its provisions related to illegal deforestation and encroachment of forest land. This acts as an effective deterrent.
Amendments Over the Years
The 1980 act has seen several amendments over the years attempting to strike a balance between development needs and environmental conservation.
Requirement of compensatory afforestation introduced for projects requiring diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
Conditions for compensatory afforestation made more stringent. Net Present Value (NPV) to be recovered from user agencies.
Seeks to exempt several infrastructure projects, mining of oil & natural gas from requiring forest clearance. Aims to simplify clearance processes.
Impact of the Act
The Forest Conservation Act is credited to have slowed down the rapid depletion of forest cover in India post-independence. Some positive impacts include:
- Reduced rates of deforestation over the years
- Improved forest governance by addressing limitations of earlier forest laws
- Ensured environmental impact assessments for projects needing forest land diversion
- Supported conservation efforts through provisions like compensatory afforestation
However, effective implementation of the act remains a challenge in preventing degradation of ecologically sensitive forests. Further stakeholder coordination is needed between development agencies, environmentalists and communities dependent on forests.