NEW DELHI: Reinitiating the process to amend the colonial era law that manages forests in the country, the environment ministry on Thursday invited applications from Indian consulting agencies/firms for preparing a comprehensive draft of amendment of
Indian Forest Act
The draft will incorporate provisions on graded penalty for different violations against the law and certain changes for removing difficulties in trade and transit of forest products across states, or across national borders in order to encourage forest sector economic growth in the country.
The changes through amendments will also ensure the role of NGOs, private sector, civil societies and individuals for taking up afforestation or tree planting and define their roles in developing or managing private forest on non-forest lands. The amendment may also bring legal clarity and uniformity in definition of forest and introduce a concept of ‘production forest’ with specific objectives of production of timber, pulp, pulpwood and non-timber forest produce.
“The selected agency will be required to submit the draft on amending the 1927 Act to the ministry by December. The draft will then be formally notified for stakeholders’ comments before being finalised as an amendment Bill,” said an official in the environment ministry.
Though the ministry had initiated the process in 2017 leading to release of a ‘zero draft’ on amending the Indian Forest Act, 1927, it had to withdraw the 123-page note before the Jharkhand election in November 2019 as its provisions had drawn flak from experts, environmentalists and tribal rights groups due to certain controversial suggestions including one on giving higher immunity to forest officers for using firearms to prevent offences and also empowering them to arrest without warrant in certain cases. The ministry had then termed the draft as merely a part of "techno-legal exercise by officials" and sought to distance itself from what was there in the public domain.
“The consulting agency, firm or joint venture consortium, shortlisted for preparing the draft, will take into account all orders or judgements of the
National Green Tribunal
while drafting the amendments,” said the official. He added that the draft would be prepared in consultation with the state government and other central ministries.
In its letter inviting ‘expression of interest’ from consulting agencies or firms for preparation of draft, the ministry said it was part of an exercise being undertaken by the central government for reviewing legislations, implemented by different ministries, in order to “make them synchronize with contemporary needs”.
It in its background note said, “The exercise is focusing on decriminalizing relatively minor violations of law, expeditious resolution through compounding relatively small offences, reducing compliance burden on citizens, rationalization of penalties, preventing harassment of citizens, de-clogging criminal justice system, expanding and improving of the use efficiently of resources, and promoting people participation and ease of doing business.”