DEEMED FORESTS (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 - Env & Eco)

News-CRUX-10     17th August 2023        

Context: The Odisha government has withdrawn a controversial order issued on August 11, which told district officials that ‘deemed forests’ as a category would cease to exist under the recently amended Forest Act.

  • The Odisha government, since 1996, had with the help of expert committees at the district-level, identified nearly 66 lakh acres as ‘deemed forest’ but many of them were not officially notified as such in government records.

Deemed forests

  • ‘Deemed forests’ are forests that aren’t classified so, by the Centre or States, in their records. 
  • However, a 1996 judgment of the Supreme Court in the Godavarman case entrusted States with identifying parcels of land “that conformed to the dictionary meaning of forest irrespective of ownership” and expanding protections available under the Forest Act to them too. 
  • An updated Forest Act said that only forests classified and recorded as such after 1980 would be protected. 
  • Forest land officially diverted by the government for non-forestry purposes between 1980 and 1996 would also not be protected.
  • However, the Environment Ministry clarified to a Joint Parliamentary Committee, constituted to examine provisions of the Bill, that the amendments did not fall afoul of the 1996 Supreme Court judgment. 
  • Tracts of forest land or “.. deemed forest lands, identified by the Expert Committee of the State, have been taken on record and hence the provisions of the Act will be applicable in such lands also.”
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