Context: Recently, Karnataka Forest Minister announced that the state government would soon declassify nearly 67% of deemed forests in the state and hand it over to Revenue authorities.
More on the news: The issue of deemed forests is a contentious one, with different stakeholders alleging that large amounts of agriculture and non-forest land are not scientifically classified as deemed forest.
About deemed forests:
- Definition: The concept of deemed forests has not been clearly defined in any law including the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.
- T N Godavarman Thirumalpad case (1996): The Supreme Court in the case accepted a wide definition of forests under the Act.
- This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2 (1) of the Forest Conservation Act.
- The provisions enacted under the Forest Conservation Act 1980 must apply clearly to all forests so understood irrespective of the ownership or classification.
- An expert committee constituted by the Karnataka government identified deemed forests as land having the characteristic of forests irrespective of the ownership.
- Why are there demands to reclassify?
- Classified without taking into account needs of the people: According to different stakeholders, the move has adversely affected farmers, as well as barred large tracts from mining.
- Wrong classification: As some of the ‘statutory forests’ had been wrongly classified as ‘deemed forest’ by the expert committee constituted after the Supreme Court order as claimed by certain political parties.
- Subjective classification: A well-defined scientific, verifiable criteria was not used, resulting in a subjective classification of areas as deemed forests.
Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980
- Background: Alarmed at India’s rapid deforestation and resulting environmental degradation, the Centre Government enacted the Forest (Conservation) Act in1980.
- Purpose: It was enacted to consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produces and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
- Administered by: The provisions under the act are administered by the forest officers and their staff.
- Approval for diversion of the land: Under the act, prior approval of the Central Government is required for diversion of forestlands for non-forest purposes.
- An Advisory Committee constituted under the act advises the Centre on this.
- Four categories of the forests: The Act deals with the forests, namely reserved forests, village forests, protected forests and private forests.
- A state may declare forestlands or waste lands as reserved forest and may sell the produce from these forests.
- Any unauthorized felling of trees quarrying, grazing and hunting in reserved forests is punishable with a fine or imprisonment, or both
- Reserved forests assigned to a village community are called village forests.
- The state governments are empowered to designate protected forests and may prohibit the felling of trees, quarrying and the removal of forest produce from these forests.
- The preservation of protected forests is enforced through rules, licenses and criminal prosecutions.