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On September 25, Karnataka Forest Minister Anand Singh declared in the Assembly that the state government would shortly declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of the state’s 9.94 lakh hectares of considered forests (almost 67%) and give it over to Revenue authorities. The action was done following an examination of the real size of lands that were considered to be forests by regional committees led by representatives of the revenue, forest, and land records departments in each district.
In Karnataka, MPs from both parties frequently claim that a lot of agricultural and non-forest land is “unscientifically” categorized as such, which is a difficult subject.
What are Deemed forests?
The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 does not explicitly define “deemed forests,” but in the case of T. N. Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996), the Supreme Court recognized the Act’s broad meaning of “forests.” “The dictionary definition of the word “forest” must be used when understanding it. In its order from December 12, 1996, the Supreme Court stated that “this classification embraces all statutorily recognized woods, whether designated as reserved, protected, or otherwise for the purposes of Section 2 (1) of the Forest Conservation Act.
“The term ‘forest land,’ as used in Section 2, shall encompass not only ‘forest,’ as that word is defined in the dictionary, but also any places designated as forests in any government record, regardless of ownership. The Forest Conservation Act of 1980’s provisions for the conservation of forest and everything related thereto must clearly apply to all forest, as hereinafter defined, regardless of ownership or categorization, the court said. al.
Following a Supreme Court ruling, the Karnataka government established an expert group. This committee defined “deemed forests” as “land bearing the characteristic of forests regardless of the ownership.” The committee stated in a report in 2002 that densely forested areas of the Revenue Department that were not transferred to the Forest Department, densely forested areas that were suggested to be transferred to the Forest Department, densely forested land that was distributed to grantees but was not cultivated, and densely forested plantations of the Forest Department could all be “deemed forests.”
Deemed Forest – Highlights
- A controversial topic, deemed forests refer to land parcels that appear to be “forests,” but have not been officially declared as such by the government or in historical records. They make up around 1% of India’s total forest territory.
- Even the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 lacks a clear definition of the term “deemed forests.”
- Areas covered by Karnataka: The “deemed forest” was identified by the expert committee that the state government established as:
- Any land containing forest features, regardless of ownership.
- The tax bureau’s heavily forested land has not been turned over to the forest service.
- It is advised that the Ministry of Forestry be given control of thickly forested areas.
- The transferee receives the deep woodland, but there is no farming.
- Plantation that is dense in the forest service.
- In its studies from 1997 and 2002, the Expert Committee recognized 4.318 million hectares of forest land in Karnataka, which included 994 million hectares of “deemed forests” and 33.23 billion hectares of reported forest area based on forest records.
Karnataka’s Deemed Forest
According to a state government-appointed expert committee, “deemed forests” are:
- Land that has a forest character, regardless of ownership.
- Areas of the Revenue Department that are heavily forested are not transferred to the Forest Department.
- The Forest Department should be given control of densely forested areas.
- Property granted to grantees that is heavily forested but uncultivated.
- The Forest Department’s densely forested plantations.
According to the expert committee studies from 1997 and 2002, Karnataka has 43.18 lakh hectares of forest land that should be preserved, including 33.23 lakh hectares of officially designated forests and 9.94 lakh hectares of “deemed forests.”
Issue of Contention
- When the government reviewed the classification of forests in 2014, it discovered that certain “statutory forests” had been incorrectly labeled as “deemed forests.”
- It further ruled that the dictionary definition was applied without the use of a clear-cut scientific standard that could be independently verified, leading to an arbitrary designation of certain regions as woods.
- Conflicts developed between the Forest Department and other departments including Revenue, Irrigation, Public Works, and Energy as a result of the subjective categorisation.
- Farmers in some locations experienced difficulties as a result of the arbitrary classification, and there is also an economic need for mining in some areas that have been labeled as forests.
- Later, 5.18 lakh hectares of considered forest land that may be released from the overall area were determined by newly established committees.
- The quantity of presumed forest land to be released has been amended to 6.64 lakh hectares following a recent examination of the true size of deemed forest lands.
- In order to exclude the amended region, the state filed an interim application with the SC in 2019. However, the Court did not rule on the case.
Forest and Tree Resources in Karnataka
- Total area covered by forests: 20.11%, according to Forest Survey of India’s 16th biennial evaluation of India’s forests, the India State of Forest Report 2019. (FSI).
- A department of the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change is FSI (MoEFCC).
- It carries out a National Forest Inventory to evaluate the increasing stock in forests and Tree Outside Forest (TOF), the resource for bamboo, the carbon stock, and the dependence of the residents of Forest Fringe Villages on fuelwood, fodder, small timber, and bamboo.
- The state can be divided into two main regions physiographically:
- Malnad is a hilly region made up of the Western Ghats.
- Accompanying the inland plateau is the plain region (Maidan).
- One of India’s four designated Biodiversity Hotspots, the Western Ghats’ evergreen forests make up around 60% of the State’s total forest area.
- The Sundalands, Indo-Burma Areas, and the Himalayas are the other three hotspots for biodiversity.
- The State’s Protected Area Network consists of 30 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 15 Conservation Reserves, and 5 National Parks (Anshi, Bandipur, Bannerghatta, Kudremukh, and Nagarahole).
- About 10% of the nation’s total tiger population and 25% of its elephant population are found in Karnataka.
How much land in Karnataka is protected under the Forest Act?
43.18 lakh hectares of forest land in Karnataka were identified for conservation in expert committee reports from 1997 and 2002, including 33.23 lakh hectares of classified forest area according to forest records and 9.94 lakh hectares of “deemed forests.”
Deemed Forest – Facts
- Deemed Forest: The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and other legal documents do not provide a precise definition of deemed forests.
- The concept of the forest, however, was expanded by the Supreme Court in the case of T N Godavarman Thirumulpad (1996) to encompass both land that is classified as a forest under the revenue or forest departments as well as land that is a forest according to the definition of a forest.
- Additionally, regardless of the type of land ownership or whether they are alerted, acknowledged, or classed in a timely manner, it had requested that states set up committees to identify forests.
- Thus, “deemed forests” were defined as “land bearing the characteristic of forests irrespective of the ownership” by an expert committee established by the Karnataka government in response to the Supreme Court judgment.
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