Decriminalisation of Indian Forest Act, 1927

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    In News

    • Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has issued a public notice for decriminalisation of Indian Forest Act, 1927.

    Key Points

    • About: 
      • The Ministry is undertaking a review of the Act to decriminalise minor sections of the law, including:
        • Carrying timber into the forest, 
        • Trespassing by cattle, 
        • Felling a tree,
        • Felling or damaging a tree reserved under a special provision of the law,
        • Kindling a fire or carrying fire in forest areas.  
    • Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927
      • It provides a legal framework for protection and management of forests, transit of forest produce and timber, and duty that can be levied on forest produce and timber.
      • IFA is an umbrella act which provides the basic architecture for the management of forests in the country.
      • It also includes providing mechanisms to ensure notification of reserved, protected and village forests, protection of forest resources, forest biodiversity and wildlife of the country
    • Amendment Proposed: 
      • The exercise is focused on:
        • Decriminalisation of relatively minor violations of law, 
        • Expeditious resolution through compounding of relatively smaller offences, 
        • Reducing compliance burden on citizens, 
        • Rationalisation of penalties and 
        • Preventing harassment of citizens
      • The ministry seeks to replace the provision of imprisonment for six months and fine, with a fine of ?500.
      • Section 26 and 33 of Indian Forest Act are to be amended.
      • section 30: Fire kindled by a person in the vicinity of any tree reserved under section 30; fells any tree or drags any timber so as to damage any tree reserved under the section 30 or permits cattle to damage any such tree shall be punishable with a fine that may extend to ?500. 
        • The clause on imprisonment up to six months for these offences has been removed.
      • There is a proposal to create various funds from the levies that will be utilised to mitigate the environmental damage. 
        • In the case of the public liability insurance law, the ministry seeks to remove the provision of prosecution. 
        • Only in the case of non-payment of penalty will the violator be prosecuted. 
        • The penalties will be collected under an environmental relief fund.

    Image Courtesy: ToI 

    • Power of Union Government:
      • The Union does not have the jurisprudence to carry out amendments in the Act, as it does not fall under the Central government, having been enacted before Parliament was established. 
      • Instead, the Act is adopted by states as they feel fit.
      • Only Haryana, Punjab, MP, Bengal and Bihar actually follow the Act. 
      • Other states have their own forest Acts. 

    Significance

    • This is being done to ease the difficulties faced in differentiating between major and minor offences, and their punishments be made distinct.
    • This will deter habitual offenders from committing more crimes, as at present there is the same level of punishment for both first-time and repeat offenders.

     

    Criticism 

    • It might go on incentivising offences, especially that of felling trees which is extremely dangerous. 
    • The proposed amendment further does not clarify or promotes ambiguity whether the Rs 500 fine is the cost of felling one tree, or an entire forest can be felled and considered a single offence.
    • The Centre’s move is actually an infringement on the rights of the states.

    Reserved Forests

    • Reserved forests constitute more than half of the total forest area of India. 
    • It has a certain degree of protection. They are protected by the respective state governments unlike wildlife sanctuaries and national parks which are supervised by the Government of India. 
    • It is considered as the most valuable type of forest from the perspective of conservation. 
    • Rights to activities like collecting timber or grazing cattle or hunting and public entry are banned in these forests. 

    Protected Forests

    • Protected forests are of two types: 
      • demarcated and 
      • undemarcated. 
    • They have a limited amount of protection. 
    • These are looked after by the government but certain activities like hunting, grazing or timber collecting are allowed to people who live on the boundaries of forests and are partially or wholly dependent on the forest resources for livelihood, provided they don’t cause severe damage to the forests. 

    Village Forests

    • Village forests are protected and managed by village communities which are assigned by the state governments. 
    • The local communities may use it for timber or other forest produce, pasture, recreation, plantation and so on under prescribed conditions by state governments. 

    Way Ahead

    • Any reform in the central level legislative should be done after wide consultation with the states and other stakeholders.
    • The government should make efforts to amend and bring in positive changes in the Indian Forest Act.

    Source: IE