KOHIMA SEPTEMBER 11: Nagaland Assembly today came together to oppose Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act 2023 passed by Parliament and sought exempting the State from its purview under Article 371A of the Constitution.
The House deliberated on the Act during the “Discussion on matters of Urgent Public Importance” under Rule-50 on the first day of the monsoon session.
Initiating the discussion, NPF Legislature Party leader, Kuzholuzo (Azo) Nienu said the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 introduced by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, got its clearance from both Houses of Parliament despite several objections from different corners of the country.
He said the Union Government made amendments in 2023 to the Principal Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and inserted two very ominous fates for Nagaland and the entire NE region.
The amendment weakened the Central Forest laws on protection and environment and conferred full powers over use of forest land irrespective of ownership to Central Government within 100 kms radius from LAC or international boundaries for strategic linear projects of national importance and concerning national security, he said.
Removing the ambiguity surrounding the definition of the term “forest”, now the Act has 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, he said.
This Act undermines the power of the State Government through and through since the Central Government has the first and the last say on everything related to forest, he said.
Under the present amendment, the State Government cannot assign any forest area to any entity without the approval of the Central Government whereas the Central Government can take away any portion of the forest land for their projects, he said.
Fearing that this will definitely make a mockery of the Article 371(A), Nienu said it directly comes into conflict with the constitutional safeguard guaranteed to Nagaland State through Article 371(A) because instead of the Centre seeking the approval of the State to implement any of the bill/act in Nagaland, now the State Government will have to seek for approval from the Central Government.
The Act makes the whole of Nagaland vulnerable since a large stretch of State is covered with greeneries, he said.
“This Act stands as a threat to tribal lands – a land from which we got our history, culture and identity. It can either fall into the commercial trap anytime or turn into a militarised zone in the name of national security”, he said.
The preamble of the Act pays lip service to the traditional methods of preserving forest and bio-diversity. Instead of learning from tribal dominated States like Nagaland on preservation of forest and bio-diversity, it is trying to impose a blanket Act without any exception or exemption, he said.
“We may say or think that the Article 371 (A) protects Nagaland from the Forest Act, 2023. Yes, I do agree with such views. However, as a matter of fact, this can happen only as and when we pass our Act to counter the Bill and reject it from this Assembly as enshrined in Article 371 (A)”, he said.
Nagaland BJP president and Cabinet Minister Temjen Imna Along,while asserting that the BJP Government at the Centre is concerned for the overall development and welfare of the State, on behalf the State BJP Legislature asserted that they would stand together with resolutions adopted by the Assembly on UCC and Forest Act.
Deputy Leader of NCP Legislature Party, MLA P Longon and NPP Legislature Party leader Nuklutoshi Longkumer also made the declaration on behalf of the respective parties saying that they stand united with the proposed passing of the resolution against the Uniform Civil Code and the Forest Act.
LJP (RV) MLA Dr Sukhato A Sema said the August House has huge responsibility to safeguard and protect Nagaland land, forest and its resources by the resolution so deciding that only the Government reserved Forest land and its resources i.e. 5% of the forest and its resources are covered by the forest conservation Act 1980, while the rest 95% of the forest and its resources belonging to the individuals and community are out of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 and Forest Conservation Amendment bill 80 of 2023 under article 371 (A) clause 1(a) (iv).
He said the Supreme Court on WP 202 of 1995, vide its various interim orders including the December 12, 1996 order defined forests irrespective of ownership.
This should bring only Government Forest Reserves ~ National Park, Wild Life sanctuary i.e. Intanki National Park, Singphan Wildlife Sanctuary, Puliebadze Wildlife Sanctuary, Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary ~ under its provision of Forest Conservation Act 1980 and not 95% of the Forest and its resources belonging to individual and community, only 5% of the forest and its resources come under Forest Conservation Bill/Act excluding the individual and community land and its resources, he said.
Furthermore, he said it has been specified that the objective of the Amendments to the Forest Conservation Act is to ensure uniformity of application of Act however, one-size-fits-all approach cannot and should not be applied in a diverse nation like ours where each State possesses its own unique land laws, tradition and ways in conserving and preserving its resources.
The amendment weakens the Central Forest laws on protection and environment and confers full powers over use of forest land irrespective of ownership to Central Government within 100 kms radius from LAC or international boundaries for strategic linear projects of national importance and concerning national security, he said.
Since a major portion of Nagaland comes under the purview of 100 km distance from the International boundary category except for a part of Wokha, Dimapur and Peren, it becomes indispensable for this August House to pass a resolution to this effect, he said.
Other participants in support of the discussion were Minister for Parliamentary Affairs & Power, KG Kenye, NPP MLA A Nyamnyei Konyak, Independent MLA Dr Neisatuo Mero, NPF MLA Achumbemo Kikon, Minister for Roads & Bridges G Kaito Aye, Advisor for Agriculture Mhathung Yanthan and JD(U) MLA Jwenga Seb.
Making the concluding remarks, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio appreciated all the participants for taking keen interest in the issue while those who did not participate also stood together against the Forest Act.
In Nagaland, land and its resources belong to the people and has been guaranteed under Article 371 (A), he said.
Nonetheless, because of the long Naga Political Issue, Nagas have been talking of politics but politics without land people will be in trouble, he said.
He said that the 16-Point Agreement clause 12 speaks about forest and contagious area to be transferred to Nagaland. Displaying that 1925 map of Nagaland in the Assembly, he said after 60 years of statehood also, the disputed area belt (DAB) has so many Naga villages and districts have been created but it is still outside Nagaland.
“We have occupied only a few villages in the DAB but there are multiple times more villages of Assam, which brings Illegal Immigrants and are placed to occupy the land”, he said.
Issue of Naga integration is alive but transfer of forest is almost forgotten and even given up, he said, while wondering about how much record the Border Department and State’s bureaucrats have.
The forest area under DAB is at least 9, covering a huge 156711.53 hectares, he said. “We should immediately redraw the map including the foothill areas. Nagaland is much more expanded”, he said.
Expressing worry about land and its resources, Rio said “we are losing all the best land”.
He said the 16-Point Agreement is the only document of Nagaland being part of the Indian Union and therefore there is a hope that the GoI will not overlook its own agreement.
The Chief Minister suggested that Forest and Allied Departments should take steps to clarify which area falls under the Act and remove apprehension.
Meanwhile, Rio opined that the State Government and people should be ready to provide cooperation to the Central Government for any development activities particularly in the interest of national security.
However, as practiced in the event of individual or community owned forest being required for such purposes, suitable compensation should be provided for the loss of forest cover and damage to the environment, in addition to the compensation of land.
He also proposed passing a resolution for the protection of the State and also come up with legislation for getting benefits under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act.
Thereafter, Assembly Speaker Sharingain Longkumer announced that time will be allotted on Tuesday to bring forth any resolution on the subject.
(Page News Service)