- 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 and stems from a Supreme Court order called the Godavarman judgement.
- The 1996 Supreme Court judgement expanded the definition of forest to include lands that were already notified by the Centre as forests, that appear in government records as forests as well as those that fell in the “dictionary definition” of forest.
- The latter clause allows the States to evolve their own criteria and define tracts of land as forest, and these would then be bound by forest conservation laws.
Issues in the definition:
- Not all States have submitted such criteria. Forests defined under this criteriaconstituted about 1% of the country’s forests and once so defined would be known as ‘deemed forests.’
- An all-encompassing definition of ‘forest’ wasn’t possible for India because the country had 16 different kinds of forest. A tract of grassland in one State might qualify in one region as forest, but not in another. However, once a State applied a criteria, it couldn’t be reversed.
- The onus on the States to define forests is also significant, because the States often claim that they are helpless in preventing encroachment because a patch of land in question hadn’t been notified as forest.
What the FAC clarified?
- As per the FAC States need not take the Centre’s approval to define what constitutes unclassified land as forest
About Forest Advisory Committee:
- The Forest Advisory Committee is a key statutory body which considers questions on the diversion of forest land for non-forest uses such as mining, industrial projects, townships and advises the government on the issue of granting forest clearances.
- While its role is advisory, the It comprises official members, including the top bosses of the forest bureaucracy and three independent experts, who are the non-official members. The decision to balance the Committee with a mix of official and independent experts was arrived at after a long drawn out stand off between the ministry, the Central Empowered Committee and the Supreme Court.