In News: The Union Ministry of Environment has objected to the transfer of thousands of hectares of land without following due process by Chhattisgarh from its Forest to the Revenue Department for setting up industries and for building road, rail, and other infrastructure.
- While the Chhattisgarh government has described these areas as non-forest land that were earlier given “by mistake” to the Forest Department, the Environment Ministry has warned that the land in question is “undemarcated protected forests”, which cannot be used for non-forest purposes without clearance under the Forest Conservation (FC) Act, 1980.
Forests in law
Broadly, state Forest Departments have jurisdiction over two types of forests notified under the Indian Forest (IF) Act, 1927:
- Reserve Forests (RF), where no rights are allowed unless specified; and
- Protected Forests (PF), where no rights are barred unless specified.
- Certain forests, such as village or nagarpalika forests, are managed by state Revenue Departments.
FC Act, 1980
- The FC Act, 1980, applies to all kinds of forests, whether under the control of the Forest or the Revenue Department, and it requires statutory clearance before forests can be used for any non-forest purpose such as industry, mining, or construction.
- In 1976, forests were included in List III (Concurrent List) under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
- The recorded forest area in Chhattisgarh covers 44.21% of its geography.
Orange, a grey area
- Under the zamindari system, villagers used local malguzari (livelihood concessions) forests for firewood, grazing, etc.
- When zamindari was abolished in 1951, malguzari forests came under the Revenue Department.
- In 1958, the government of undivided Madhya Pradesh notified all these areas as PFs under the Forest Department.
- Madhya Pradesh amended the IF Act, 1927, in 1965 — when forests figured in the State List — to allow denotification of PFs.
- The areas yet to be surveyed — undemarcated PFs — were marked in orange on the map.
- The FC Act came in 1980, and required central clearance for non-forest use of forest land.
- This led to a situation where the rights of lakhs of villagers, including those settled by the government through pattas, remained restricted.
After Madhya Pradesh was split
- Carved out of MP in 2000, Chhattisgarh inherited its share of ‘orange’ areas.
- Ranked second after Orissa in implementing the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the state has settled over 26,000 claims since 2019.
- Chhattisgarh did not seek central clearance to transfer over 300 sq km to Revenue, they claim, because it did not have to.
Supreme Court Ruling
- In 1996, the SC defined ‘forest’ after its dictionary meaning, irrespective of the status of the land it stands on.
- It also defined forestland as any land thus notified on any government record irrespective of what actually stands on that land.
- To meet this broad definition, Madhya Pradesh in 1997 framed a policy — an area no smaller than 10 hectares with at least 200 trees per hectare — to identify forests in Revenue areas for handing over to the Forest Department.
- Based on this policy some non-forest areas also came under the Forest Department.
- These non-forest areas, they claim, are now being identified and returned to the Revenue.
What happens now?
- Clearance for non-forest use of forestland under the FC Act requires giving back twice the area for compensatory afforestation (CA) from Revenue to Forest.
- That would defeat the very purpose of the state government’s action.
- However, conversion of Forest to Revenue land has been exempted from CA under exceptional circumstances in the past.
- For example, when enclaves were moved out of forests, the SC allowed those to be resettled at the edge of the forests, in the absence of suitable Revenue land, as revenue villages.
Source: Indian Express