Why in news?
The Centre has clarified on the definition of forests.
- The freedom to define land, not already classified as forests by the Centre or state records, as forest has been the prerogative of the States since 1996 based on SC judgment in Godavarman case.
- In this case SC had expanded the definition of forest to include (a) lands that were already notified by the Centre as forests (b) lands that appear in government records as forests and c) those that fell in the dictionary definition of forest.
- The court had allowed the States to evolve their own criteria and define tracts of land as forest.
- SC had opined that an all-encompassing definition of forest wasn’t possible for India because the country has 16 different kinds of forest and a tract of grassland in one State might qualify in one region as forest but not in another.
- The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) now has clarified that the States need not take the Centre’s approval to define what constitutes unclassified land as forest.
- The criteria finalized by a state need not be subject to approval by MoEF&CC. However, once a state applied a criterion, it couldn’t be reversed.
Need for clarification:
- Recent clarification by FAC on the definition of forest came in the backdrop of the Uttarakhand government putting forth a set of criteria defining forest land and asked the ministry for its opinion.
- But according to experts, Indian definition of forests exaggerates forest cover and inadvertently masks deforestation.
- India’s definition of forests doesn’t provide an accurate picture of the extent of biodiversity in rich natural forests.
- Often states claim that they are helpless in preventing encroachment because a patch of land in question hadn’t been notified as forest. E.g. A recent instance was the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, which officially isn’t classified as ‘forest.’