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Rajya Sabha Passes by Voice Vote Contentious Forest and Mines Bills Amid Opposition Walkout

While the forest Bill allows eco-tourism in forest areas, the mines Bill paves the way for private players in exploring critical minerals.
Union Minister Pralhad Joshi speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. (PTI Photo)(

Union Minister Pralhad Joshi speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed a Bill that exempts land within 100 km of the country's borders from the purview of conservation laws and permits setting up of zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities in forest areas.

The Upper House passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 after a brief debate, though the Opposition had walked out over the ethnic violence in Manipur.

The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha on July 26.

Posting on X, earlier known as Twitter, Congress MP and former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh condemned the “bulldozing” of legislative process in .

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 that makes several far-reaching and radical amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 has just passed in Rajya Sabha now in the absence of the Opposition that is being silenced on Manipur. The journey of the Bill to soon becoming law is a case study on how to completely subvert the legislative process. Both the substance of the amendments and the manner they have been bulldozed through in Parliament, reflect the mindset of the Modi Government, and the vast gap that exists between its global talk and domestic walk on the environment, forests and the rights of adivasis and other forest-dwelling communities,” Ramesh tweeted.

During the debate, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said the Bill exempts certain types of land such as forest land along a rail line or a public road maintained by the government and providing access to a habitation, or to a rail and roadside amenity up to a maximum size of 0.10 hectares.

Exempted forest land includes land situated within 100 km of international borders, Line of Control and Line of Actual Control, and proposed to be used for the construction of strategic linear projects for national security.

The Bill also exempts land up to 10 hectares proposed to be used for constructing security-related infrastructure, land proposed to be used for defence-related projects or paramilitary forces' camp and public utility projects, as specified by the Centre, not exceeding 5 hectares in a Left-wing extremism-affected area.

The Bill empowers the Central government to specify, by order, the terms and conditions subject to which any survey, such as reconnaissance, prospecting, investigation or exploration including seismic survey, shall not be treated as non-forest purpose.

Private sector to be allowed to mine lithium, 5 other atomic minerals

A Bill that seeks to allow the private sector to mine six out of 12 atomic minerals, including lithium, and deep-seated minerals such as gold and silver was passed by Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, amid a walkout by Opposition members demanding a discussion over the Manipur violence issue.

Union Minister for Coal and Mines Pralhad Joshi moved The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2023, when Rajya Sabha reassembled in for the post-lunch period.

The Bill was passed by the Upper House of Parliament by voice vote. It was approved by Lok Sabha last month.

Earlier, all 12 atomic minerals were reserved for mining and exploration by state-owned entities. The bill amended The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.

The atomic minerals which will be opened for private sector exploration are lithium (used for manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage devices), beryllium, niobium, titanium, tantalum and zirconium.

The Bill also empowers the central government to exclusively auction mining lease and composite licence for certain critical minerals.

Deep-seated minerals include gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, cobalt, platinum group of minerals and diamonds. They are difficult and expensive to explore and mine as compared to surficial or bulk minerals.

Discussion on the Bill took place in Rajya Sabha amid opposition uproar over the Manipur violence issue as they demanded a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the House. Later they staged a walkout.

Only 11 members, including Aditya Prasad (BJP), Baburam Nishad (BJP), Deepak Prakash (BJP), GK Vasan TMC (M), V Vijayasai Reddy (YSRCP), M Thambidurai (AIADMK) and Sasmit Patra (BJD), took part in the discussion and supported the Bill.

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