Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Environmentalists find loopholes


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By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The Megh-alaya Forest Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2012 has come under scanner for its definition of ‘forest’. The Bill was passed on the last day of the Winter Session of the State Assembly on Friday.

The environmentalists have pointed out that the Bill does not have any retrospective effect and is aimed at giving free hand to destroy the forest cover to divert it to non-forest activities.

There are already vast areas of forest land occupied by the owners of various cement plants in Jaintia Hills.

As per the Bill, an area would be ‘forest if it is a compact or continuous tract of minimum four hectares land , irrespective of ownership, and where there are more than 250 naturally growing trees or more than 100 naturally growing bamboo clumps per hectare are present”.

According to the environmentalists, fixing of 4 hectares area will be a ploy to exploit the 5 hectare limitation, beyond which central clearance is mandatory under Forest Conservation Act (1980).

They fear that this facilitate diversion of forest area to non-forest purpose as there are only a few forest areas in the State with the contiguous block of 4 hectares.

The new definition defers from that of United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Management & Conservation of forests) Act, 1958 which says that forest is an area where not less than 25 trees per acre, reserved or unreserved or any other forest produce growing on such area which have been or are capable of being exploited for purpose of business or trade.

According to experts, the definition of forest by Autonomous District is close to that of the intention of the Supreme Court which had imposed a ban on tree felling.

Since the Forest Bill does not go by the dictionary meaning of forest, this is in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s order on PIL of T. N Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs Union of India which specifies that the word ‘forest’ should be defined as per the dictionary meaning irrespective of ownership and classification. The dictionary meaning will also include the tract of land with density of thick vegetation used for traditional way of agriculture which is exempted from the purview of the amended Meghalaya Forest Bill.

Apprehensions are that the new definition of forest will lead to justification of already diverted forest land in the name of non-forestry purpose for which no objection certificate was already issued earlier.

Concerned over the matter, like minded persons in the State have decided to form a “Meghalaya People’s Environment Right Forum” as Naba Bhattacharjee as its convener.


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