Now that the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 has been passed by both the Houses of the Parliament. Now, only the President’s Assent stands between the Bill being enacted as law under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Interestingly, the Act itself will get a new name: the Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980! Members of Parliament from the opposition parties were missing from the proceedings during the discussion of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on 2 August when it was passed. The opposition MPs had walked out citing the lack of a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Manipur issue. As such, no dissent was tabled against the Bill during the legislative process. Some experts have criticized the opposition leaders on this. Perhaps, the Nagaland Congress remains silent on this issue because its leaders in the Parliament walked out when the Bill was passed.
The Leader of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) Legislature Party, Kuzholuzo Nienu, has stated that his party rejects the Bill. The Naga Rising had earlier opposed it. No other prominent voice of dissent against the Bill has been raised publicly by anybody in Nagaland, let alone Mokokchung. The Nagaland Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, CL John, is reported to have said earlier this year on 5 June that the Bill, even if it is passed in Delhi, cannot be implemented in Nagaland without first being deliberated in the state Assembly. According to him, Nagaland has “Article 371 (A).”
Unfortunately, no legal expert has explained if the Nagaland Forest Minister is right about Article 371(A). The Union Minister can develop strategic projects concerning “national security” within 100 kms of distance from the international borders as per the Amendment. There are many changes in the new Bill (Act) but the legal luminaries should explain whether Article 371(A) can protect Nagaland from the amended Act if it receives the President’s assent. Remember, Nagaland was not able to extract petroleum because the Centre opposed it. The people of Mokokchung seem to be still ignorant about the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 and it is expected of the legal community here to educate the people.