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Retired Civil Servants Challenge Forest Conservation Act Amendments in SC

The petitioners have raised concerns that permitting large-scale development projects in forest areas may disrupt intricate ecological systems.
Why Healthy Forests Mean Fewer Pandemics

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Delhi: Amidst the backdrop of mounting climate change threats, the vital issue of forest conservation takes centre stage before the country's apex court. A group of retired civil servants has moved the Supreme Court to challenge recent amendments to the Forest Conservation Act. These amendments, among other things, relax constraints on development activities.

A group of retired civil servants has lodged a petition with the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the recent amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, including provisions easing restrictions on developmental activities (Ashok Kumar Sharma and ors vs Union of India and anr), the Bar and Bench reported.

The petitioners have raised concerns that permitting large-scale development projects in wilderness and forest areas may disrupt intricate ecological systems and imperil endangered species.

The matter was brought before a bench of Justices BR Gavai, Aravind Kumar, and Prashant Kumar Mishra on 20th October, and the Court has called for the Union government's response on the issue, according to the report.

The petitioners argue that the amendments significantly diminish the legal safeguards previously granted to extensive forest lands in India. This, they contend, could expose these lands to deforestation and irreversible harm.

"The 2023 Amendment Act poses a threat to the environmental, ecological, and food security of the nation, as well as the lives and livelihoods of local communities. It confers unrestrained discretion upon the Central Government concerning the use of forest lands and reduces regulatory oversight of these lands. Given its infringement on various constitutional provisions and violation of established principles of Indian environmental law, the challenged 2023 Amendment Act must be invalidated in its entirety," states the plea quoted by Bar and Bench.

According to the petition, the legislative process did not adhere to due parliamentary procedure and consultation.

"Despite receiving 1,309 memoranda raising concerns about the Bill's soundness, the Committee accepted all its provisions in its report without critical commentary. It disregarded genuine concerns from the scientific community, forest officers, conservationists, tribal councils, retired civil servants, and other experts. The Government, nevertheless, pushed the bill through Parliament without taking into account the widespread dissent expressed," the petitioners assert.

It is argued that the Act violates the Supreme Court's 1996 orders in the TN Godavarman case, which requires the identification of forest lands by an expert committee, with their reports made public.

Furthermore, the petition underscores that the opening of forest land for non-forest purposes may exacerbate human-wildlife conflicts. Additionally, objections have been raised against the blanket exemption of protective rules for forest lands within 100 kilometres of international borders.

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