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May 1 @ 7:00 am - 11:30 pm


The recent actions taken by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), in compliance with a Supreme Court order, have brought attention to the challenges surrounding the identification and protection of unclassed forests in India.  

Implications of Supreme Court Order: 

  • MoEFCC uploaded various State Expert Committee (SEC) reports on its website in response to a public interest litigation challenging the constitutionality of the Forest (Conservation) Act Amendment (FCAA) 2023. 
  • The petition raised concerns about the lack of verifiable data on the identification, status, and location of unclassed forests, as well as the failure of several states to constitute SECs or submit reports as directed by the Supreme Court. 
  • SEC reports revealed significant discrepancies, with many states relying on existing data without ground-truthing or physical surveys, leading to uncertainties regarding the geographic location and classification of unclassed forests. 
  • The incomplete nature of the reports is likely to result in the large-scale destruction of unclassed forests, undermining efforts to achieve forest cover targets and protect biodiversity. 

About Unclassed Forests: 

  • Deemed forests, also referred to as unclassed forests, are afforded legal protection as established in the pivotal case of T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union Of India & Ors(1996). 
  • These forests encompass various types of land, including those belonging to forests, revenue, railways, government entities, community forests, or private ownership, but are not officially notified under the Indian Forest Act. 
  • Identification of unclassed forests involves examining available records and physically identifying land patches with forest characteristics, with SECs tasked with this responsibility. 

Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023: 

  • The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023, introduced significant changes to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA), narrowing its coverage to two types of lands. 
  • The amendment raised concerns about the loss of legal protection for unclassed forests, potentially leading to their diversion for non-forest use. 
  • Despite their ecological significance, unclassed forests would require Central government approval for any diversion under the amended act, even if not officially notified. 

Challenges and Concerns: 

  • Legal Protection: The narrow definition of forests under the amended act poses a threat to the legal protection of unclassed forests, making them vulnerable to diversion for non-forest purposes. 
  • Impact on Forest-Dwelling Communities: Failure to recognize ‘deemed forests’ under the Forest Rights Act undermines the rights of forest-dwelling communities, jeopardizing their livelihoods and traditional practices. 
  • Environmental and Ecological Concerns: The narrow legal definition overlooks ecological considerations, potentially leading to degradation and loss of biodiversity in unclassed forest areas. 

T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union Of India Case, 1996: 

In this landmark case, the Supreme Court issued directions for the sustainable use of forests, emphasizing that any area defined as a forest would be subject to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. 

The ruling prevented states from de-reserving protected forests without central government permission, highlighting the importance of stringent forest conservation measures. 

Way Forward: 

  • Ensure full adherence to the ruling of the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union Of India Case, 1996, aimed at safeguarding all categories of forests, including unclassed forests. 
  • Require the conduct of thorough physical surveys and ground-truthing to precisely identify and map unclassed forests, rectifying any disparities between State Expert Committee reports and Forest Survey of India data 
  • Implement penalties for states and Union Territories that fail to constitute SECs or provide accurate data on unclassed forests, and establish a robust monitoring system to track progress and adjust strategies as needed. 

Mains question: 

  1. “Discuss the challenges and implications of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023, on the protection and conservation of unclassed forests in India, highlighting the role of State Expert Committees and the need for stringent monitoring mechanisms.” (150 WORDS)


May 1
7:00 am - 11:30 pm
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