JPC must hold public consultations on FCA Bill 2023

The proposed amendment impacts the Forest Rights Act, BDA & Climate in general
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Representational ImageSource: Pixabay

In March this year Union Minister for Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC ) Bhupender Yadav introduced an amendment bill in Lok Sabha wherein certain changes need to be made in the Forest Conservation Act (FCA)1980. The Union Minister claims that the amendment seeks to bring clarity to the country’s forest conservation law and exempt certain categories of lands from its purview to streamline the “strategic & security” related projects of national importance. The environmental activists, tribal organisations and wildlife NGOs are opposing the proposed amendments as it will cause destruction to the forest by way of haphazard development on demarcated forest areas. If the amendment bill becomes a law it will cause severe implications on the forests of Jammu & Kashmir as the bill proposes forest land situated within 100 km along the international borders, Line of Control (LoC), or Line of Actual Control (LAC) can to be used for construction of strategic linear project for national importance or security. With the LoC or LAC stretch being mostly covered with forests especially in Jammu & Kashmir any construction work in these areas requires forest clearance and if the FCA Bill 2023 becomes a law the said permission isn’t required at all as the Forest Department would almost lose control on these forests.

Background of the FCA Bill 2023

The Union Forest and Environment Minister introduced the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill also called FCA Bill 2023 amid protests by opposition MPs who were demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Gautam Adani issue.

The Government claims that the aim of the proposed changes in Forest Conservation Act 1980 is to build forest carbon stock by raising plantations. The bill also seeks to make land available for compensatory afforestation. The FCA Bill 2023 was sent to a joint committee of both the Houses of Parliament for discussion. The committee consists of 31 members of parliament out of which 19 are the Lok Sabha members, 10 Rajya Sabha members and two members are to be nominated by the Speaker of Lok Sabha. Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) headed by Lok Sabha MP from Meerut Rajendra Aggarwal is expected to submit its report during the Monsoon session of the Parliament (July 2023).

The Joint Parliamentary Committee, JPC, recently released a notice inviting suggestions on proposed law, considering its wider implications. The JPC has invited views of the public in general, NGOs, experts, stakeholders and institutions in particular to be submitted before them.

Increased Forest Cover ?

The Government says that FCA Bill 2023 seeks to broaden the scope of applicability of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, on different types of lands. The bill claims to increase forest cover in the country for creation of a carbon sink of additional 2.5-3.0 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

It also proposes to exempt certain categories of lands from the purview of the Act to fast track strategic and security-related projects of national importance, to provide access to small establishments, habitations on the side of public roads and railways, and to encourage plantation on non-forest land.

The bill proposes changes in the preamble of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which reads “An Act to provide for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto”. As per the amendment bill some new words are to be inserted in the preamble which is in-fact very good if the same is implemented on ground in letter and spirit. The bill proposes to add biodiversity and climate change as well in the preamble. The draft bill preamble reads:

“An Act to encompass the country’s rich tradition of preserving forests, their bio-diversity and tackling climate change challenges within its ambit “

The draft bill also provides for terms and conditions including the condition of planting trees to compensate for felling of trees undertaken on the lands while considering the proposed relaxations under the Act. In addition to it the bill calls for including more activities vis a vis conservation of forest and wildlife into the array of forestry activities and bring uniformity in the applicability of the provisions of the Act in respect of government and private entities.

Exempted categories of land

The Bill also exempts certain types of land from the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act such as forest land along a rail line or a public road maintained by the government providing access to a habitation, or to a rail, and roadside amenity up to a maximum size of 0.10 hectare. Forest land that will also be exempted includes:

A) land situated within 100 km along the international borders, Line of Control, or Line of Actual Control, proposed to be used for construction of strategic linear project for national importance or security,

B) land up to 10 hectares, proposed to be used for constructing security related infrastructure, or

C) land proposed to be used for constructing defence related projects, camp for paramilitary forces, or public utility projects as specified by central government (not exceeding five hectares in a left wing extremism affected area). These exemptions will be subject to the terms and conditions specified by the central government by guidelines.

The aforementioned provisions are going to severely affect the forest cover as 100 km area is huge area when we talk of J&K because our landholding is too little as compared to other states? This means the Forest Department will lose its control in the entire 100 km area near LOC and no forest clearance would be required during execution of any work in Rajouri, Poonch, Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora and even Budgam districts.

FCA Bill overrides FRA, BDA

The Forest Conservation Act (FCA) 1980 restricts the de-reservation of forest or use of forest land for non-forest purposes. The FCA Bill 2023 says that such restrictions may be lifted with the prior approval of the central government. When we say non-forest purpose, this includes use of land for cultivating horticultural crops or for any purpose other than reafforestation. The Act specifies certain activities that will be excluded from non-forest purposes, i.e., the restrictions on de-reservation of forest or use of forest land for non-forest purposes will not apply. These activities include works related to the conservation, management, and development of forest and wildlife such as establishing check posts, fire lines, fencing, and wireless communication. The FCA Bill 2023 adds more activities to this list such as: (i) zoos and safaris under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 owned by the government or any authority, in forest areas other than protected areas, (ii) eco-tourism facilities, (iii) silvicultural operations (enhancing forest growth), and (iv) any other purpose specified by the central government. Once private players take up these activities it will convert forest areas into towns which is a clear violation of the Biodiversity Act (BDA). The amendments in FCA also overrides the Forest Rights Act - FRA, which applies to all types of forest land including unclassified forests, un-demarcated forests, existing or deemed forests, protected forests, wildlife sanctuaries, and national parks. Thus, such a restrictive definition of forests would allow diversion of land which is a clear violation of FRA. In fact several NGOs, tribal organisations have raised their concern over this issue. The Uttarakhand based Van Gujjar Tribal Yuva Sangathan has also raised its concern on this issue. They have already sent their suggestions to the Joint Parliamentary Committee-JPC some days back. The FCA Bill 2023 waters down the criteria of ‘non-forest’ purposes that required formal clearance for diversion under the Forest Conservation Act 1980.


As a climate action campaigner I am hopeful that the Joint Parliamentary Committee-JPC undertakes wide public consultation on the proposed amendments in the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (FCA). They must visit Himalayan states especially J&K , Uttarakhand and Himachal to get the on ground feedback from people. The suggestions made by various institutions , NGOs , environmentalists , forest experts should be properly analysed , discussed and debated. The JPC must ensure that amendments to FCA which threaten our environment , ecology, forests and wildlife are not included. By allowing utilization of forest land for some other activities under the garb of setting up zoos, eco tourism and forest safaris, this will turn out to be disastrous in the long run as big business houses , corporates will buy huge chunks of forest for their own benefits. Allowing utilization of forests near LOC, LAC without forest clearance will also impact the environment in Himalayan states especially Jammu & Kashmir. All these activities will also affect the livelihood of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) plus snatching the grazing rights of our pastoralist communities like Gujjars , Bakerwals , Chopans , Gaddis, Sippis, Changpas etc in J&K , Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh , Uttarakhand and other Himalayan states.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Chairman & Founder of J&K RTI Movement and Anant Fellow for Climate Action.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK. 

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