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Current Affairs

Deemed forests

Date: 20 November 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Karnataka government has announced that it would soon declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of the 9.94 lakh hectares of deemed forests in the state (nearly 67%) and hand it over to Revenue authorities. 

 

Background

The move has been taken after a study of the actual extent of deemed forest areas by local committees.

 

Details

  • The concept of deemed forests has not been clearly defined in any law including the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. The Supreme Court in the case of T N Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996) accepted a wide definition of forests under the Act. 

  • The description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of the Forest Conservation Act.

  • The term ‘forest land’ will not only include ‘forest’ as understood in the dictionary sense, but also any areas recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of the ownership. 

  • An expert committee constituted by the Karnataka government identified ‘deemed forests’ as “land having the characteristic of forests irrespective of the ownership’”.

  • Thickly wooded areas of the Revenue Department not handed over to the Forest Department; thickly wooded areas recommended to be handed over to the Forest Department; thickly wooded land distributed to grantees but not cultivated, and thickly wooded plantations of the Forest Department could all be ‘deemed forests’.

 

Need for declassifying deemed forests land

  • The subjective classification has resulted in conflicts between the Forest Department and other departments like Revenue, Irrigation, Public Works, and Energy.

  • Ministers have also argued that land was randomly classified as deemed forest by officials, causing hardship to farmers in some areas. There is also a commercial demand for mining in some regions designated as deemed forests.

 

Way forward

  • Preservation of forest areas in India under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been continuously monitored by the Supreme Court.

  • The state government must obtain clearances from the Supreme Court for affecting changes to land classified as deemed forests.