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Over the past few decades India has experienced heavy deforestation. In order to fight against deforestation and degradation, the Indian government placed major restrictions on their use. The Forest Acts are meant to regulate forest exploitation, for the management and preservation of forest resources. In India, there are about 275 million people living in forest areas, including millions of tribal who rely heavily on forests for fuel, fodder, grazing, wood, and non-timber forest products. These were not as effective as expected as it lacked deterrent punishment and gave only meager powers to the forest officers. Although the Indian Forest Act is a federal act, many states have enacted similar forest acts but with some modifications.
Forest Laws of India
There are several Acts, policies and mission aimed at protecting the forests. These are:
- Indian Forest Act 1927
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
- The Forest (Conservation) Rules, 1981 (updated in 2003)
- The National Forest Policy, 1988
- Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)
- National Mission for a Green India (GIM)
- National Afforestation Program (NAP)
The Indian Forest Act,1927 was passed with the aim of regulating the movement of forest produce, and duty leviable forest produce. It also explains the procedure to be followed for declaring an area as Reserved Forest, Protected Forest or a Village Forest. It also explains what a forest offence is, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and the penalties imposed on violation of the provisions of the Act.
The objectives of Indian Forest Act,1927 are as follows:
- To consolidate all the previous laws regarding forests.
- To give the Government the power to create different classes of forests for their effective usage for the colonial purpose.
- To regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
- To define the procedure to be followed for declaring an area as Reserved Forest, Protected Forest or Village Forest.
- To define forest offences acts prohibited inside the Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on the violation.
- To make conservation of forests and wildlife more accountable.
History of Forest Act
In 1864, the British administration had set up the Imperial Forest Department to establish control over forests, through various legislations. The Indian Forest Act of 1865 gave the British the power to declare any land covered with trees as a government forest and make rules to manage it.
This act was amended in 1878 giving the British the sovereignty of all wastelands which by definition included forests too. It classified the forests into three on the basis of the level of protection provided to the forests: reserved forests, protected forests and village forests. It also enabled the administration to demarcate reserved and protected forests. The Act attempted to regulate the collection of forest produce by forest dwellers and some activities declared as offences and imprisonment and fines were imposed in this policy to establish the state control over forests.
The Act was again amended in 1927 and this impacted the life of forest dependent communities. It was enacted to make forest laws more effective.
Types of Forest
Forests are classified into three:
- Reserved Forest
- Protected Forest
- Village Forest
These are the most restricted forests and are government properties. Local people are prohibited in these forests unless they are given permission by a Forest Officer in the course of the settlement.
Any land other than reserved forests are categorized as protected forests over which the Government has proprietary rights and the power to issue rules regarding the use of such forests. The state government exercises control over trees, whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products have revenue-raising potential.
These are forest lands which are handed over to any village community living nearby to take care of the flora without anything in return. The villagers guard the forest, and protect it from fires.
Impact of Forest Acts
The Forest Acts had severe impact on the life of people.
- Several activities like fishing, hunting, collecting roots and fruits, grazing the cattle, and cutting wood etc. were declared as illegal activities. This led to the loss of livelihood for several nomads.
- The Act led to the ban of shifting cultivation which was practiced by villagers. The British wanted to make sure that the supply of timber was not affected.
Drawbacks of Forest Acts
- The act gave great power to the forest bureaucracy which often led to the harassment of the forest dwellers.
- It deprived the nomads and tribal people their rights and privileges to use the forests and it’s produce.
- The local communities used to conserve the habitat and species through local knowledge and governance systems. These conservation efforts have been ignored in our forest and conservation policies.
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