Deemed forests, and why Karnataka wants to declassify some

#GS2 #GOVERNANCE #GS3 #ENVIRONMENT

  • The issue of deemed forests is a contentious one in Karnataka, with legislators across party lines often alleging that large amounts of agriculture and non-forest land are “unscientifically” classified as such.
  • The state government would soon declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of the 9.94 lakh hectares of deemed forests in the state (nearly 67%) and hand it over to Revenue authorities. 
  • The move has been taken after a study of the actual extent of deemed forest areas by local committees headed by officials from the Revenue, Forest and Land Records Departments in every district.

 

Deemed forests

  • While the concept of deemed forests has not been clearly defined in any law including the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the Supreme Court in the case of T N Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996) accepted a wide definition of forests under the Act. 
  • The word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning. 
  • This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2 (1) of the Forest Conservation Act, the Supreme Court said in its December 12, 1996 order. 
  • The term ‘forest land’ occurring in Section 2 will not only include ‘forest’ as understood in the dictionary sense, but also any areas recorded as forest in the government record irrespective of the ownership. 
  • The provisions enacted in the Forest Conservation Act 1980 for the conservation of forest and the matters connected therewith must apply clearly to all forest so understood irrespective of the ownership or classification thereof.
  • An expert committee constituted by the Karnataka government after the Supreme Court order identified ‘deemed forests’ as ‘land having the characteristic of forests irrespective of the ownership’. 
  • Thickly wooded areas of the Revenue Department not handed over to the Forest Department; thickly wooded areas recommended to be handed over to the Forest Department; thickly wooded land distributed to grantees but not cultivated; and thickly wooded plantations of the Forest Department could all be ‘deemed forests’.
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