At the ongoing 26th Conference of Parties (COP 26), more than 100 World leaders promised to strengthen their shared efforts to conserve forest and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration. India, which proclaimed to reach net- zero carbon emission by 2070 at the summit, however, desisted from being a part of the declaration to save the remaining forests.
Keeping away from the band of signatories, several questions raise on how the country will be able to meet the promise Prime Minister Narendra Modi made at Glasgow of tackling global warming and climate change.
STAYING BACK FOR PUSHING FOREST AMENDMENT ?
Here the question is not just of fossil fuels but of the remaining Forest, which are the real “Lungs of the Earth”. India is one of the ten most forest rich countries in the world.
India is learned to have stayed away from the forest declaration as the linkage of trade, forest issue and climate change was not acceptable. The proposed linkage fell under the World Trade Organization, which was not suited for the country. However, a few environmentalists say the real fear is quite different. India has proposed amendment to the existing Forest Conservation Act, 1980 to allow more windows of deforestation for accommodating key projects. And if becomes a part of the Declaration, the country would find it difficult to push ahead with its amendment to the Forest Act that has been instrumental in bringing down deforestation.
The Glasgow Declaration said: “we recognise that to meet our land use, climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals, both globally and nationally, will require transformative further action in the interconnected areas of sustainable production and consumption, infrastructure development, trade, finance and investment and support for smallholders, indigenous peoples and local communities, who depend on forests for their livelihoods and have a key role in their stewardship.”
It was rightly alleged by none other than Former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who tweeted, “the government is diluting environment and forest laws at home while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making global headlines.” Jairam Ramesh, who has been critical of the BJP government on environmental issue, further criticised Modi’s speech at the Glasgow climate summit, calling it as “tall promises” and pointed out that the government’s actions at home were contrary to his statement. “Mega announcements by the PM at Glasgow is one thing. What matter are actions at home. ALL environmental & forest laws are being diluted, standards are being relaxed, and enforcement bodies are being weakened. This is THE reality—not some tall promise for a very distant 2070,” he tweeted.
After being part of the declaration, Modi would find it hard to push the amendments, which would not only find criticism in the country but across the whole world. In that instance, it is better for his government not to sign in the name of the word “Trade”.
Along with the net zero promise, the experts note that it was better if the country had also adopted the forest declaration. Adopting the two would have given an impetus to India’s call for tackling global warming and climate change
WHAT IS IN AMENDMENT
In the amendment, the Modi Government proposes to exempt certain categories of infrastructure project developers from approaching the Centre for permission to use forest land for non-forestry purposes. It proposes absolving agencies involved in border infrastructure projects, national security projects, land owned by the Railways or the Road Transport Ministry that was acquired before 1980 or when the Act came into force. In the present Act, the Centre’s nod was required for land being used for afforestation projects for diverting it for non-forestry uses and even pay the mandatory compensatory cess as well as arrange for alternate land.
FOREST (CONSERVATION) ACT, 1980
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, came into force for addressing deforestation in the country. The FCA comes with the following main features
- restricts State government and other authorities to make decisions in some matters without the prior permission of the central government.
- the whole power is in the hand of the Central government to carry out the laws of this Act.
- provides penalties for the infringement of the provisions of this Act.
- an advisory committee may be formed for advising the Central government in matters related to forest conservation.
Moreover, the Act restricts the state governments and other authorities to make laws in the following matters without the prior permission of the Central government:
- they cannot dereserve any forest land or any portion of it reserved under any law for the time it being enforced in the State or any other part;
- forest land or any portion of it cannot be used for non-forest purposes;
- they cannot assign any forest land or any portion of it by way of lease to any private person, or anybody or organisation not controlled by the Government of India;