Forest Amendment Act 2023: States and UTs to Follow ’96 Forest Definition, Says SC

The Supreme Court ordered states and union territories to follow the 1996 definition of forests. The court also halted the implementation of the Forest Amendment Act 2023.

Forest Amendment Act

Last year, the Lok Sabha passed the Forest Amendment Bill 2023, a new central law for the conservation of forests, which means the major changes in the Forest Act, of 1980. when this bill was passed in Lok Sabha experts and many environmental activists criticised and were against this Forest Amendment Act 2023. And Shivam was also one of them. But now, Shivam heaved a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court issued an interim order on Monday, which said, states and Union Territories to use the 1996 definition of forest when identifying and conserving forest land. The instruction emphasizes not to base their actions on the Forest Amendment Act 2023.

What is happening? Why Shivam was concerned about the new forest amendment bill? And what makes him feel relief now? Let’s explore this current hot topic.

Let’s start with concerns. Environmental activists like Shivam were concerned over a few things with this new bill. The first is The TN Godavarman decision of the Supreme Court, which diversified the definition of forests also known as the 1996 definition of forest, which was changed in the Forest Amendment Act 2023.

Similarly, Shivam shares the same concerns as the petitioners. This is about easing the rules for performing non-forest activities on forest land. activities like zoos and safaris, and also the approval of projects of national importance within 100 kilometres of a regulated or unregulated international border. In simple words, The bill allows for commercial activities on land that is not listed as forest. Shivam was also concerned about the potential impact on tribal communities, whose livelihoods rely on forests and forest resources. If this Forest Amendment Act 2023 becomes law, it would declassify more than 197,000 square kilometres of forests.

So, you now know why Shivam was concerned. Now let’s see what made him relief.

On, Monday the Supreme Court of India ordered that states can ask the Union government to obtain information regarding which lands have been selected as forests in the linguistic sense, and The states and union territories (UT) have to act as per the definition of ‘forest’ as established in the TN Godavarman vs Union of India decision declared in 1996.

This decision matters because it clarifies and regulates the classification of forests throughout India, ensuring that all states and union territories use the same criteria to determine what defines a forest in the linguistic sense. With this order, the court has invalidated the Forest Amendment Act 2023

And what about zoos and safari?

SC said Zoos or safaris cannot be established in these locations until approval from the courts. “We issue an interim order to the effect that any proposal for the establishment of a zoo or safari referred to in the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, owned by the government or any authority in forest areas other than protected areas, shall not be finally approved unless and until the final approval of this Court,” held the bench of Chief Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Justices JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra.

Also, States and UTs must report on listed forest land within two weeks, according to the Godavarman ruling. States and Union Territories have until the end of March to do that. When reports are received, the Center has been directed to upload them on the environment ministry’s website by April 15. After this order from the court, Shivam and other environmental activists are feeling a little bit of relief.

But don’t forget this is only an interim order, there is still a lot to happen. We will keep you updated.

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1. What is the Forest Amendment Act 2023?

A. The Forest Amendment Act 2023 was a law enacted by the government that aimed to modify aspects of the Forest (Conservation) Act. It included provisions that could potentially affect the classification of forests and the conditions for non-forest activities on forest land.

2. Why did the Supreme Court stay the 2023 amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act?

A. The Supreme Court halted the 2023 amendment to ensure that states and Union Territories continue to adhere to the established 1996 definition of ‘forest’ for consistent forest classification and protection.

3. What does the Supreme Court’s directive mean for land classification?

A. The directive requires states and Union Territories to identify lands as forests based on the 1996 definition, emphasizing the importance of consistent forest management and conservation efforts.

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