‘Vast gap between global talk, domestic walk’: Congress MP on Forest Bill passage in Rajya Sabha
The upper house passed the crucial bill, after a brief debate, amid protests by opposition members and a walk out over the Manipur issue on Wednesday.
Congress MP Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday hit out at the Narendra Modi government over the passing of The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, in the Rajya Sabha, saying the manner in which the bill has been "bulldozed" in the Parliament reflects the "vast gap that exists between its global talk and domestic walk" on issues of environment, forests and tribal rights.
While taking to X (formerly Twitter), the Congress MP said, “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," he added.
The upper house passed the crucial bill, after a brief debate, amid protests by opposition members and a walk out over the Manipur issue on Wednesday. The Lok Sabha passed the bill on July 27.
Ramesh further said that the forest bill should have been referred to the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, which is being headed by him.
"I had taken serious objections to this (bill not being sent to the committee) and put them on record as well, not once but twice. Instead, a Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) was set up with a ruling party MP as its chair. Extraordinarily and perhaps in an unprecedented move, the report suggested no changes whatsoever to the bill as introduced by the government," the Congress leader said.
He also listed out the substantive objections to the amendments to the bill and said the very name of the law is being changed.
"For the first time a law passed by Parliament will have its short title entirely in Hindi without an official English equivalent. This does injustice to non-Hindi speaking states," the former Environment minister said.
Besides the change in language, the title of the law itself is being amended which when translated into English will read as Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act, he claimed.
"This is based on the assumption that plantations can compensate for loss of natural forests. This notion is completely faulty. The two are ecologically very different. Natural forests can be regenerated but not augmented as seems to be the mindset governing the amendments," he said in a statement.
The Rajya Sabha member further said "forest-like areas" such as tracts of land that have the characteristics of forests, but have not been notified under the law or recorded as "Forest" in any government records, would be exempted under the new amendment, which includes traditionally conserved lands, identified as "deemed forests" along with areas intended to be notified as "Forest", but notification for these under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, (or other equivalent state law) has not even begun, he claimed in his statement.
The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, seeks to exempt land within 100 km of India borders from the purview of conservation laws and permit the setting up of zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities in forest areas. It amends The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
(With inputs from PTI)