The Apex court has issued an interim order to go back to its 1996 ruling to identify forests in the country.

SC order to go by 1996 definition of forests a good move, but not ambitious enough: Experts

In a win for environmentalists and forest communities, the Supreme Court, on February 19, directed states and Union Territories to adhere to the 1996 definition of ‘forest’—which referred to the dictionary definition of forest—and put a stay on the 2023 amendment to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA).

The 2023 amendments to the FCA, 1980, were challenged in petitions filed by a group of retired Indian forest officers and former bureaucrats, and the NGO Vanashakti. They argued that the 2023 amendment had “substantially diluted” the definition of forest, narrowed the Act’s scope and had allegedly resulted in 1.97 lakh sqkm of land getting excluded from forest area. Many experts believe that 2023 amendments would open up huge chunks of forests for commercial interests. 

So, earlier this week, the Apex court issued an interim order to go back to its 1996 ruling to identify forests in the country. However, experts said that going back to the generic definition of forests is not an ambitious move. 

Centre has no details of states’ reports on deemed forests: RTI

The Centre, in a reply to RTI, said the Union environment ministry does not have details of the state expert committee reports which identified so-called deemed forests in every state following Supreme Court’s 1996 order in TN Godavarman Vs Union of India matter, reported the HT.

Retired IFS officer, former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Kerala, Prakriti Srivastava who filed the plea told the newspaper that  SC has said that all state expert committee reports on forests identifying all categories of forests including unclassed forests as per the Godavarman judgment are to be compiled by the MoEFCC within two weeks and georeferenced also as per the 2011 Lafarge order in the 202/ 96 Godavarman case. These geo-referenced maps of all forests have to be put in the public domain by 15th April 2024. 

Shrivasta said when he sought these reports under RTI, he was told that the information is not available with the Ministry. Shrivastava told the newspaper: “This is shocking when the Ministry has stated before the Joint Parliamentary Committee that the SEC reports have been taken on record and the amended Act will be applicable to the land also. It is really horrifying that the Ministry has made such false assurances which have resulted in changing the conservation regime of the country through the amended Act without even examining the State Expert Committee reports! Considering the few poor quality SEC reports that have been seen by us, it is to be seen what the next steps of the Ministry will be in pursuance to the SC order of today,”

Asia Pacific region’s 2030 SDG goals facing 32-year delay

The Asia Pacific region is severely lagging behind on its UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ​​a new report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) found. The report found only 11% of the 116 measurable SDG targets (out of the total 169) are on track. In the current scenario, the Asia Pacific region will meet only one-third of the SDG targets by 2030, and will complete its goals by 2064—which adds up to a 32-year delay in completing these goals. The climate action SDG is at the bottom of this list, according to the report, and needs most work. The reason for this, the report said, was that most initiatives under this SDG have either stalled or been reversed. 

Goa govt joins hands with World Bank for blended climate finance facility

The Goa government partnered with the World Bank on a blended finance facility that aims to boost the state’s climate resilience. Under this facility, Goa’s environment department signed an MoU with National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and the Power Finance Corporation (PFC). The government aims to collaborate with these institutions to initiate sustainable climate action.