Kohima, 6 August (MTNews): Amidst the recent passing of the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 by both houses of Parliament, Kuzholuzo Nienu, the Leader of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) Legislature Party, has emerged as a prominent voice of dissent. The NPF leader said that his party ‘rejects outright’ the amendment, terming it as ‘anti-tribal and anti-constitutional,’ and called for immediate action to counteract its effects.
Nienu also strongly asked the Government of Nagaland, in exercise of Article 371(A), to “immediately pass an act/resolution rejecting the Forest Conservation Amendment Act 2023, like it happened in the past during Dr SC Jamir’s government when Imsungit Jamir was the Forest Minister.” Nienu also urged the government to convene a special Assembly session or take up the issue during the upcoming Assembly Session scheduled for 11 September 2023 to counteract the effects of the amendment.
The amendment, introduced by Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, has sparked discussions and concerns across the country. Despite several objections raised from various quarters, Nienu said the bill has now been signed into law.
Highlighting the key features of the amendment, Nienu noted its “apparent” intentions to promote sustainable forest development, and to remove the ambiguity surrounding the definition of “forest.” The Act, he said, has now extended its protection of forest areas, irrespective of the ownership, that are not officially classified and notified as forests in a government record as on October 25, 1980 but are ecologically sensitive.
“Interestingly, the amendment included a preamble that seeks to harness the country’s rich tradition of preserving forests and bio-diversity to tackle the climate change,” he observed.
Nienu, however, highlighted a significant concern regarding the exemption clause within the amendment. The clause allows projects related to the economy and national security within 100 km of international borders to bypass the need for forest clearance. He raised concerns that under the guise of aiding national security and economic growth, both protected and unclassified forest areas could be encroached upon. He also expressed apprehension that such encroachments could threaten the rich forest cover that the region takes pride in, and potentially lead to environmental degradation.
Nienu further referenced past instances, including the Supreme Court’s February 2019 order attempting the eviction of tribal communities from forest areas arguing that the Forest Rights Act 2006 “hardly succeeded in providing security of life and shelter against the capitalist driven forces.”
“Though it did not affect northeast India much, it has already set a tone that forest and wildlife concerns can be politicized for other national and commercial interests. The present Act substantiates the fear of the people, especially the stakeholders – the tribal lands in the NE which is surrounded by international borders,” he added.
According to Nienu, the Act undermines the power of state governments and highlights that it diminishes the authority of state governments in favor of the central government, as it allows the latter to take away portions of forest land for projects without seeking state approval. This, he argued, is a ‘mockery’ of Article 371 (A) and directly conflicts with the constitutional safeguards guaranteed to Nagaland under Article 371(A).
“Instead of the Centre seeking the approval of the state to implement any of the bill/act in Nagaland, now Nagaland government will have to seek approval from the central government. The Act makes the whole of Nagaland vulnerable since a large stretch of state is covered with greeneries,” he added.