Govt plans to come out with statutory definition of forest

Those with good canopy to be defined as forest: Javadekar

Govt plans to come out with statutory definition of forest

The Union Environment Ministry plans to come out with a statutory definition of forest that may encourage social forestry, but a legal definition also carries the risk of diversion of more degraded forest land for industrial purpose.

“Yes, we will come out with definition of forest soon. Notified forests and those with good canopy will be defined as forest,” said Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in a television interview.

The minister’s comment follows the recommendations of a high-level panel that the National Democrativ Alliance (NDA) government created to review six green laws. One of the recommendations of the committee, headed by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, was to define forest.

“Formulating a statutory definition of ‘forest’ is an unresolved issue currently. The committee observes that citizens and private institution are reluctant to invest in forestry or plantations, apprehending loss of their land being declared as forest’,” Subramanian panel says in its report.

“On the other hand, there is a need to encourage non-forest, non-government land holders to engage in plantations in land owned by them. This includes public sector units also who keep large tracts fallow.

The committee suggests even if afforested, such land may not be treated as ‘forest’ falling under the definition of the law,” it adds.

The ministry of environment and forest is nowformulating a suitable definition of the term ‘forest’ taking various legal aspects into account, including directions from the Supreme Court.

The Forest Survey of India, in its biennial report on India’s forest cover categorises forests as very dense forest, moderately dense forest and open forest. The grouping is done based on the canopy cover. Scrub, though shown separately, is not counted in the forest cover.

As per the latest FSI report, just about 21 per cent of Indian land mass is covered by forest, out of which very dense forest is only 2.54 per cent whereas moderately dense forest comprises 9.76 per cent of land.

The Subramanian panel suggested that while defining forest, the government should exclude plantation raised on private land by any individual or agency.

It further advised the ministry to insert an explanatory note in the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Environmentalists, however, apprehend that a legal definition of forest would mean commercial exploitation of green belts near the cities.

The government routinely gives permission to divert forest land for industrial projects. For instance, the Forest Approval Committee of the ministry approved diversion of 15,999 hectares of forest land between July and December, 2014.

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