IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


27th July, 2023 Environment

Disclaimer: Copyright infringement not intended.


  • The contentious Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 was passed by the Lok Sabha within 20 minutes of it being tabled in the Parliament.


  • The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, has been a contentious piece of legislation aimed at amending the existing Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
  • The primary objective of the bill is to address certain ambiguities in the current Act and introduce exemptions to expedite infrastructure development projects.
  • However, this proposed bill has faced strong opposition from environmentalists, scientists, and indigenous communities, who raise concerns about potential adverse impacts on biodiversity and the rights of indigenous people living in forested regions.

Summary of Key Amendments and Exemptions in the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023

Land under the purview of the Act:

  • The bill specifies two types of land covered by the Forest (Conservation) Act:
    • Land declared or notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or any other law.
    • Land recorded as a forest on or after October 25, 1980, in government records.
  • Supreme Court's 1996 judgment mandates that any area recorded as a forest in government records must fall under the Act's purview, including land recorded before October 25, 1980.
  • However, a dissent note by Parliamentary Committee highlighted that certain forest lands transferred to the forest department during the abolishment of the zamindari system were not officially notified as forests under any law. Excluding these lands could weaken the Supreme Court's ruling and impact biodiversity hotspots like the Aravallis and western ghats.

Land exempted from the Act

  • The bill proposes several exemptions from the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for certain types of land:
    • Forest land up to 10 hectares for constructing security-related infrastructure.
    • Forest land within 100 km along international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control for constructing linear projects of strategic national importance or security.
    • Forest land proposed for constructing defense projects, paramilitary camps, or public utility projects within five hectares in left-wing extremism-affected areas.
  • A dissent note raises concerns about blanket exemptions for forests in the Himalayan and north-eastern regions, which are rich in endemic biodiversity. The exemptions may impact the landscape, biodiversity, and infrastructure due to extreme weather events.
  • States like Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh propose explicit definitions for security-related infrastructure and public utility projects to avoid potential misuse.

Ministry of Defense and Home Affairs' role in exemptions

  • The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Home Affairs will identify and exempt strategic linear projects from the Act's provisions.
  • Some north-eastern states, except Assam, argue that the 100 km exemption near international borders would exempt their entire states due to their shape and size. The Ministry of Environment clarifies that the exemption will be provided for national security projects only and on a need basis, with a maximum limit of 100 km.

Use of forest land for non-forest purposes

  • The bill allows certain activities in forest lands without requiring prior approval by the central government, including:
    • Silviculture (the cultivation and care of forest trees for commercial purposes).
    • Zoos and safaris.
    • Eco-tourism facilities or any other similar purpose prescribed by the central government.
  • Concerns are raised about potential commercialization and misuses, but the Ministry of Environment states that these activities are ancillary to forest conservation and management, supporting local livelihoods and development.

Power of the central government to issue directions

  • The bill empowers the central government to issue directions to any authority under the central or state government for implementing the Act.
  • Submissions express concerns that this provision may infringe on states' powers in regulating forests, but the Ministry of Environment justifies it as necessary to address global issues such as climate change and carbon neutrality.]

Definition Clarity

  • One of the main objectives of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, is to provide clarity to the definition of forests.
  • The current Act's lack of precision in defining forests often leads to delays in development projects within forest areas. By bringing clarity to this definition, the government aims to streamline the process of obtaining forest clearances for non-forest purposes.

Responses and Concerns

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, has been met with strong opposition from various quarters:

  • Environmentalists: Environmental activists and organizations have expressed deep concerns about the potential adverse impacts of the proposed bill on India's biodiversity-rich forests. They fear that the exemptions granted for infrastructure development might lead to the exploitation of ecologically sensitive areas, threatening wildlife habitats and the delicate balance of nature.
  • Indigenous Communities: Indigenous communities, especially those residing in the Himalayan and northeastern regions, have voiced their opposition to the bill. They argue that the exemptions provided may undermine their traditional rights over forest lands and natural resources, leading to the loss of their livelihoods and cultural heritage.

Impact on Environmental Conservation and Indigenous Communities

While proponents of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, argue that the proposed amendments will promote infrastructure development and boost national security, critics contend that the potential risks to the environment and the well-being of indigenous communities must be carefully considered:

Potential Benefits:

  • Proponents of the bill believe that the exemptions granted will accelerate infrastructure development in regions affected by left-wing extremism.
  • This, in turn, could lead to improved connectivity, schools, and roads, ultimately benefiting the tribal communities living in such areas.
  • Government defended the bill, labeling it as "progressive" and crucial for meeting Net-Zero emissions targets. The bill aims to create a carbon sink to sequester 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2030 under the Nationally Determined Contribution targets.
  • The bill is designed to increase surveys in science and technology, including those related to earthquakes and mining, to aid economic development.
  • The amendments in the bill will help establish rescue centers for wildlife in protected areas.
  • The name change from Forest Conservation Act to Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, which translates to Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act, ensures it is closest to the native language of people across India.

Potential Risks:

  • Critics fear that the blanket exemptions for forest lands, especially in ecologically sensitive regions, might result in the unregulated exploitation of natural resources and fragile ecosystems.
  • Such activities could have severe consequences for wildlife and biodiversity conservation.
  • Additionally, the bill's provisions could potentially undermine the rights and autonomy of indigenous communities over their ancestral lands.


The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, has evoked strong reactions from various stakeholders due to its potential implications for environmental conservation and the rights of indigenous communities. Striking a balance between development and ecological preservation is crucial for ensuring sustainable progress in India. As the bill moves through the legislative process, it is essential for policymakers to take into account the concerns of environmentalists and indigenous communities, while also addressing the need for infrastructure development and national security. Effective implementation, robust monitoring mechanisms, and transparent public consultations are essential to achieving sustainable development goals without compromising India's invaluable natural heritage.


Q. Analyze the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023's key provisions and the concerns raised by stakeholders. Discuss its potential impact on India's environmental commitments and the rights of indigenous communities.