The Rajya Sabha adjournment on Monday prevented the bills from being tabled. Nevertheless, over 1,500 people, including indigenous groups, environmentalists, leading scientists, defence officers, and retired civil servants from across the nation, have signed a petition urging the Rajya Sabha’s Member of Parliament of respective areas to withhold support for the “dubious” Bills, which forsees to weaken – Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Tarun Joshi, the state coordinator of Van Panchayat Morcha Sangh, said, “The exemption of forest areas up to 100 km from the border from clearance, could have significant implications for Uttarakhand’s abundant forests. Would that mean conservation acts meant for the forests in these areas would not be applicable?”
Environmental activist Reenu Paul, who previously won a case against the state government’s attempt to redefine the definition of forests in 2019, told TOI, “The amendments seek to overcome the interlocutary applications which are deriving from the landmark Godavarman judgment of the Supreme Court in 1996. The judgement had widened the scope of forests, irrespective of their ownership, and to date, illegal mining, tree felling and construction works are being challenged countrywide by activists by referring to this judgement. The Supreme Court should certainly intervene if the Bill is passed today.”
Adding to the concerns, environmentalist Ravi Chopra said, “This is a part of the current government’s effort to weaken all the environmental and conservation acts in the country. These holistic acts would now only be limited to protected forests.”
Meanwhile, Paul felt that if the Bill is passed, it would be a “blow to the efforts of scores of Indians” like her. “This would be a collective defeat of all the nature lovers and environmentalists of India, who worked and fought hard to save the vast flora and fauna of our country,” she said.
Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 aims to amend Biological Diversity Act of 2002. The legislation seeks to promote ease of doing business in the biodiversity sector and decriminalises all offences under the conservation law. Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill was passed on July 25 in the Lok Sabha despite opposition. The bill seeks to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, to regulate the extraction of forest resources by industries as well as forest-dwelling communities.