Environment & Biodiversity

Deemed Forests

  • The Odisha government has reversed a disputed order that declared the ‘deemed forests’ category under the revised Forest Act to be discontinued.
  • This reversal comes after concerns were expressed about the order’s consequences for forest classification and protection.

Understanding ‘Deemed Forests’

  • Definition: ‘Deemed forests’ are regions that are not formally recognised as forests in official records by central or state authorities.
  • Legal Ambiguity: The phrase ‘deemed woods’ does not have a clear legal definition, even under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.
  • Broad Definition: The T N Godavarman Thirumulpad Case (1996) of the Supreme Court endorsed a broad view of forests. It included all statutorily recognised woods under the Forest Conservation Act, regardless of reservation status.
  • According to the court, the term ‘forest land’ in Section 2 of the Act extends beyond the dictionary definition to cover areas recorded as forests in official records, regardless of ownership.

Recent News and Controversy

  • The subject of ‘deemed forests’ has gained prominence, particularly in Odisha and Karnataka, where charges of incorrect categorisation and impact on agriculture and mining continue.
  • Reclassification Requests: Advocates argue that regardless of ownership, ‘deemed forests’ should adhere to the dictionary definition of forests. Concerns have been expressed concerning arbitrary classifications that damage farmers and mining operations.
  • Classification Issues: Critics contend that the current subjective classification lacks a well-defined scientific standard, resulting in conflicts and problems for communities.

The Reasons for Reclassification

  • Reassessment in 2014: In order to address the flaws of the classification method, the Centre launched a review of forest categorization in 2014.
  • The requirement for Criteria for Objective Evaluation: While initial classifications were led by the dictionary definition, a lack of objective criteria resulted in subjective designations that hampered clarity and justice.
  • Managing Difficulties: Officials designated land as ‘deemed forest’ without taking into account local needs, causing problems for farmers and communities reliant on such grounds.
  • Commercial Demands: Some areas classified as ‘deemed woods’ have commercial mining value, prompting calls for reclassification.

Implications for Odisha

  • State-Level Identification: Odisha has declared roughly 66 lakh acres as ‘deemed forest’ with the support of district-level expert committees since 1996. Many of these places, however, were not officially recognised as forests in government records.
  • Controversy and Debate: The decision provoked debate, with experts and campaigners raising worries about the potential consequences of ending the ‘deemed forest’ categorization. The relocation could have an influence on conservation efforts as well as the legal status of these areas.
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