The Khasi Students Union (KSU) has said that the proposed Forest Conservation Amendment Act if passed will result in large scale conversion of forest lands into non-forest purposes.
The KSU has raised its objection to the proposed amendment of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 through a letter sent to Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister, Bhupender Yadav.
In the letter, the environment and cultural cell of the KSU said that the definition of forest given in the proposed amendment of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been diluted and the provisions are more in favour of non-forest purpose and activities and thus, nullify the enactment of the December 12, 1996 ruling of the Supreme Court.
“If the proposed amendment becomes a law, it will result in large scale conversion of forest lands into non-forest purposes. The proposed amendment creates loopholes in the form of exemptions to let project proponents escape the need for seeking forest clearance in many cases,” the KSU said.
It also said that the proposed amendment on the consultative paper has not taken into consideration the tribal and indigenous rights of the North East region nor made any exception to the forest lands falling under the Sixth Schedule areas.
“The proposed amendments on the consultative paper appeared less about the conservation of forest but instead to facilitate takeover of forest lands and make it cheaper and easier for large scale deforestation,” KSU said.
“The blanket exemptions of approvals to any strategic and security projects at any international borders are unacceptable as the definition of such projects are ambiguous and opens a massive escape route for the use of forest land for new projects,” it added.
KSU also said that the exemption for projects that use new technology like the Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) which involves the extraction of natural resources through horizontal drilling is uncertain in the hilly region as it will do more harm to the environment without prior evidence of it being harmless or any assessment impact on the hilly areas, lands and its biodiversity.
While opposing the new amendment proposals of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the KSU sought more clarification on the points raised by it.
The KSU also sought more time for consultation with various stakeholders in the State and the North East region as a whole on the proposed amendment.
It may be noted that as per this proposed amendment, deemed forests listed by state governments up to 1996 will continue to be considered forest land.
It also stated that land that was acquired by the railways and the road ministries before 1980, but on which forests came up, will no longer be considered forests.
As far as strategic projects are concerned, the proposed amendment said that the forest land for strategic and security projects of national importance should be exempted from the need to obtain prior approval from the Central government. This will allow states to permit diversion of forest land for strategic and security projects that are to be completed in a given time frame.
For oil and natural gas extraction, the proposed amendment said it will facilitate new technologies such as Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) for extraction of oil and natural gas found deep beneath the forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest areas. It also said that the use of such technology is quite environment-friendly and as such should be kept outside the purview of Forest Conservation Act.
For buildings in forests, the proposed amendment said that in order to ease the grievances of the individuals whose land fall in state specific private forests act or within the purview of dictionary meaning of forest, such individuals would be allowed the right to construct structures for bonafide purposes including forest protection measures and residential units up to an area of 250 sq mtr as a one-time relaxation.