An overview of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

An overview of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

Constitution and Forests 

Two new articles that are Article 48A and Article 51A were added to the Indian Constitution through the Constitutional (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976.  New directive principle of state policy was introduced under Article 48A and new fundamental duty for citizens under Article 51A.

Article 48A – “Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.”

Article 51A (g) –  “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

And with a view for conservation of forests and matters related to forests Indian Parliament enacted the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 on 27th December, 1980. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 replaced the Forest (Conservation) Ordinance, 1980. The Act contains 5 sections at the time of commencement. The Act extends to every state of India except Jammu and Kashmir. Later in 1988, two new sections i.e. 3A and 3B were added to the act through amendment.

The main objectives of The Forest Conservation Act 1980 are:

  1. i) Protecting the flora, fauna and other ecological components of forests.
  2. ii) Protecting the integrity, territory and individuality of the forests.
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iii) Protecting the forests and preventing deforestation leading to land erosion and degradation.

  1. iv) Preventing the loss of biodiversity.
  2. v) Preventing the conversion of forests into agricultural, grazing, commercial or residential unit.

Historical Background

The very first draft on issues related to forests was Indian Forest Act 1865. Dietrich Brandis in 1864 set up The Imperial Forest Department to establish British control over forests. The British government through this act got the power to declare any land covered with trees as a government forest and making rules for its management.

In 1878 British introduced The Indian Forest Act of 1878. The British Administration acquired the sovereignty of all wastelands included forests through this Act. The administration also got the power to demarcate any reserved and protected forests. The rights of the locals were refused and privileges given to them can be taken away anytime by the government.

Forests were classified into three types under this Act –

  • Reserved Forests: The State Government can constitute reserved forests on any forest land or wasteland. These are most restricted forests. Locals are prohibited to enter without special permission by a Forest Officer.
  • Protected Forests:The State Government can constitute protected forests on any land other than reserved forests over which the Government is having proprietary rights and the power to issue rules. Through this the State established control over trees, whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products having potential to raise the revenue of the state.
  • Village forest:Any forests assigned to any village community where the rights of Government were also exercised by the people of the community.

In 1927 British Government introduced Indian Forest Act of 1927. This Act had a great impact on the life communities that were directly depending on forests.

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The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

Restriction on the dereservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purpose.

Section 2 of the Act restricts any state government or authority from making any order without permission from the central government, on following matters –

  • De-reserving any reserved forest or any portion of the reserved forest.
  • Using forest land or any portion of the forest land for non-forest purposes. Non-forest purpose here means the breaking up or clearing of any forest land or portion for cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing plants, horticultural crops or medicinal plants or any purpose other than reafforestation. It does not include any work relating to conservation, development and management of forests and wildlife such as the establishment of check-posts, fire lines, wireless communications and construction of fencing, bridges and culverts, dams, waterholes, trench marks, boundary marks, pipelines.
  • Assigning any forest land or any portion to any private person or to any authority, corporation, agency or any other organization managed, owned or controlled by private body other than Government, by way of lease.
  • Clearing trees from any forest land or any portion which have grown naturally for afforestation.

Constitution of Advisory Committee 

Section 3 of the Act empowers the Central Government to constitute a Committee for advising the Government on:-

  • Granting approval for matters under Section 2.
  • On any matter referred by the Central Government related to conservation of forests.

Penalty for contravention of provisions 

Section 3A of the Act was added to the Act by amendment in 1988. It provides that if any person contravenes or abets the contravention of the provisions of Section 2 should be punished with simple imprisonment up to fifteen days.

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Offences by the Authorities and Government Departments 

Section 3B was also added by amendment in 1988. It provides that when any department of Government, the head of the department or any authority, any person in charge of authority commits an offence under this Act and was responsible for the conduct of the business of the authority should be guilty of the offence and is liable for punishment. But the head of the department, person in charge of any authority prove that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all his powers to prevent the offence, then he cannot be held liable for the offence. In case the offence is done with consent or connivance of any officer other then head of department or person in charge or due to neglect at his/her part then he/she should be held liable of that offence and for punishment. Any person aggrieved from the decision of any authority under this Act can file an appeal to the National Green Tribunal.

Power to make rules 

Section 4 of the Act empowers the Central Government to make rules for this Act by a notification in the Official Gazette. Before notifying the rules they must be presented before each House of Parliament for thirty days comprised in one or two or more successive sessions. Both Houses must be agreed on making or not making any new rules or any modification in the rules.

Author: Vikramjit Singh,
Panjab University SSG Regional Centre, Hoshiarpur

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