Centre drops plan to bring in changes to Forest Act of 1927.

The draft had mooted giving a wide range of powers to forest officers

The Union Environment Ministry on Friday withdrew a draft amendment that proposed updates to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Activist groups and some State governments had protested this proposed law after it was mooted in March.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told a press conference that the draft was withdrawn. “Let me clarify that this wasn’t a government draft, as such. We had just consolidated views from various States with a significant forest cover. Over a few months, we’ve learnt that this has led to wrong interpretations. So we are withdrawing the zero draft.”

Munda hails decision

Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda of the BJP, who was present at the press conference, “welcomed” the withdrawal. Mr. Munda is a former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, which has a significant tribal population and which will go to the polls next month.

The Indian Forest Act, 2019, was envisaged as an amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and an attempt to address contemporary challenges to the country’s forests. The draft law had been sent to key forest officers in the States for soliciting comments and objections.


It drew flak from activists as well as tribal welfare organisations.

Last month, the Mizoram government rejected the draft. “The proposal to amend the Indian Forest Act was rejected after a consultative meeting of all stakeholders, including representatives of political parties, civil society organisations and officials,” Mizoram’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change T.J. Lalnuntluanga had said.

“Forest-officer not below the rank of a Ranger shall have power to hold an inquiry into forest offences…and shall have the powers to search or issue a search warrant under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973…,” said a copy of the document. The Hindu had reported on this draft in March.

Siddhantha Das, Director-General, Forestry, told The Hindu that an amendment to the Forest Act was due. “We will revise it and look at it with fresh eyes. But we will definitely have an amended Act and have wider discussions.”

The legislation also proposes a forest development cess of up to 10% of the assessed value of mining products removed from forests, and water used for irrigation or in industries. This amount would be deposited in a special fund and used “exclusively for reforestation; forest protection and other ancillary purposes connected with tree planting, forest development and conservation,” the draft document noted.

“We welcome this withdrawal,” said a statement by activist collective, Campaign for Survival and Dignity. (Source: The Hindu)

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