Current Affairs for today- 16th November 2019
GS Paper II
Centre drops plan to bring in changes to Forest Act of 1927
The Union Environment Ministry has withdrawn the draft amendment that proposed updates to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 after the activist groups and some State governments protested against the legislation of the amendment mooted in March.
The Indian Forest Act, 2019, was envisaged as an amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and an attempt to address contemporary challenges to the country’s forests.
What’s in the news?
This draft law had been sent to key forest officers in the States for comments and objections. However many activists and tribal welfare organisations disagreed with the proposals.
Last month, the Mizoram government rejected the draft to amend the Indian Forest Act after a consultative meeting of all stakeholders, including representatives of political parties, civil society organisations and officials was held.
“Forest-officer not below the rank of a Ranger shall have the power to hold an inquiry into forest offences…and shall have the powers to search or issue a search warrant under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973…,” said a copy of the document, according to The Hindu.
However, the Forestry Department was quite open to fresh and wider discussions as there is a requirement to amend the Act.
What did the new Indian Forest Act, 2019 propose in the new draft?
- It seeks to empower forest bureaucracy to use firearms with AFSPA-like immunity from prosecution and acquire land for undefined “public purpose” using the now-defunct Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
- It aims at re-establishing state power over forests at the cost of rights granted to the forest-dwelling tribals and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA).
- To empower the very forest bureaucracy whose highhandedness (that provokes left-wing insurgency in sensitive areas) and undermine the guarantee of the FRA by safeguarding the traditional rights of the tribals.
- The central government seeks to arm itself with far greater power over forest resources than the colonial masters who brought in the Indian Forest Act of 1927, which now seems like an irony.
- The amendment defines community as “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”.
- Forest is defined to include “any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest/forest land in any government record and the lands managed by government/community as forest and mangroves, and also any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act.”
- The original IFA, 1927 had its preamble focused on laws in relation to the transport of forest produce and respective taxes on it; but now the draft proposes to shift the concern on “conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability to ensure provision of ecosystem services in perpetuity and to address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments”.
- Increased state intervention: The amendments say if the state government, after consultation with the central government, feels that the rights under FRA will hamper conservation efforts, then the state “may commute such rights by paying such persons a sum of money in lieu thereof, or grant of land, or in such other manner as it thinks fit, to maintain the social organisation of the forest-dwelling communities or alternatively set out some other forest tract of sufficient extent, and in a locality reasonably convenient, for the purpose of such forest dwellers”.
- To penalize entire communities through denial of access to forests for offences by individuals. Such provisions invariably affect poor inhabitants.
- Production forest: A new category of forests was introduced with the specific objectives for the productionof timber, pulp, pulpwood, firewood, non-timber forest produce, medicinal plants or any forest species to increase production in the country for a specified period.
- The legislation also proposed a forest development cess of up to 10% of the assessed value of mining products removed from forests, and water used for irrigation or in industries. This amount would be deposited in a special fund and used “exclusively for reforestation; forest protection; and other ancillary purposes connected with tree planting, forest development and conservation.
- This environmental policy has weakened public scrutiny of decisions on forest disintegration for destructive activities such as mining and large dam construction, though the forest officials cite against independent scientific evaluations and decisions on the forest health and the biodiversity conservation outcomes.
- Forest officers can issue search warrants and enter the land to investigate within their jurisdictions.
- It will allow government to open any patch of land it deems fit for infrastructure development, commercial plantations or mining, etc.
- Under the new amendment, forest departments can also declare any forest as reserved and alienate the forest-dwelling communities from their ancestral lands.
Indian Forest Act, 1927:
- The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on previous Indian Forest Acts implemented under the British rule like that of the Indian Forest Act of 1878.
- It meant to consolidate the mechanism to reserve the areas with rich forest cover or significant wildlife to regulate movement and transport of forest produce, duty on timber and other forest produce.
- It defines what a forest offence is and what are the laws to be followed inside a Reserved Forest, and corresponding penalties for the violation of rules envisaged in the Act.
- It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
GS Paper II
Five-in-one: BRICS countries need greater connectivity and more inter-grouping trade to get ahead
With the global economic trends in dismal, trading arrangements in disarray and mulling over the relevance of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the summit of leaders of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) have met at a very opportune time.
BRICS has always been resilient with all the negatives during its blooming phase and after since its inception in 2006.
- According to the author, India and China have buoyed the grouping with their growth, though Brazil, South Africa and the sanction-laden slowdown in Russia have poorly contributed to the growth of BRICS.
- The group has adapted to the rough times and proven its abilities on front-end with all the member countries heading in different pace and directions politically and strategically, and yet built a common ceiling to building on the economic future of the world.
- They are laying immense emphasis on multilateralism and a joint statement at Brasilia, decrying “unilateral and protectionist” actions of the West.
- For India, in particular, the articulation of this vision comes at an important time, given the resent drift into economic crisis and troubled- trade deficit relations with many nations. However the recent decision of India to not sign into the RCEP trade bloc has raised eyebrows and speculations whether it has changed its stance at openness to trade and its market liberalizations.
- It is significant that India and China are on for talks on the sidelines of BRICS Summit to resolve their issues on trade deficit through the recent efforts of their Finance Ministers to bring back India into RCEP bloc.
- The BRICS countries which acknowledged the weakening of global economic growth in the statement reaffirmed their commitment towards WTO though the original institutor, USA is cutting back its interests in the multilateral structure.
- They also presented a vision for “rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade”, and commended the efforts of the BRICS-led New Development Bank and BRICS Business Council to warrant the member countries to continue to represent one third of the global output.
- Brics has failed in the maintenance of interdependence between the member countries, however, going forward it is greater connectivity and more trade that will allow the BRICS countries to claim their rightful space, and provide the leadership and energy that the global economic order needs urgently
New Development Bank
- Headquarters: Shangai
- It is a multilateral development bank established by the BRICS states during the 6th Summit in 2014 and according to the Agreement on the NDB, the Bank shall support public or private projects through loans, guarantees, equity participation and other financial instruments.
- The Fortaleza Declaration stressed that the NDB shall increase the co-operation among the BRICS by supporting multilateral ad regional financial institutions to contribute positively to sustainable and balanced growth.
- Areas of co-operation: Clean energy, transport infrastructure, irrigation, sustainable urban development and economic cooperation otherwise as well.
- It works as a consultative mechanism by giving equal opportunities to all the 5 member nations.