Centre to give Indian Forest Act a facelift

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has started the process of “comprehensively amending” the backbone of forest governance in India—the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA).

“The process would involve the examination of all the sections of the Act. The obsolete provisions will be weeded out and provisions fit for the present will be introduced,” a highly placed official in the MoEF&CC told Down To Earth.

The process would involve the examination of all the sections of the Act. The obsolete provisions will be weeded out and provisions fit for the present will be introduced.

Currently, there is no definition of forest in any Indian law pertaining to forest or its governance. Therefore, the amendments will also include definitions of terms like forests, pollution, ecological services etc.

The legal definition of forests will have huge ramifications on the conservation of forests as well as the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

The amendments will include changes to punishments and fines prescribed in the IFA, incorporate provisions related to carbon sequestering, ecological services etc.

According to the 1996 Supreme Court order, the dictionary definition of the word forest is taken to be the legal definition too. It covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2(i) of the Forest Conservation Act (1980). As per the Court order, the term forest land, occurring in Section 2, will not only include forest as understood in the dictionary sense, but also any area recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of the ownership.

Indian Forest Act, 1927:

The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on previous Indian Forest Acts implemented under the British. The most famous one was the Indian Forest Act of 1878.

Both the 1878 act and 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.

It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.

It defines what a forest offence is, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.

Many reports like the MB Shah report of 2010 and the TSR Subramanian report of 2015, have talked about amending the IFA.

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