The lone Lok Sabha member from Mizoram C. Lalrosanga said that though he opposed the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023, there had been no time to speak in the Parliament and was passed amidst uproar of opposition members who were demanding a discussion on Manipur violence.
“My support or opposition was meaningless as the bill was passed without any discussion amid ruckus,” Lalrosanga said.
He belongs to the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) which is a part of the ruling NDA, but vehemently opposed to the passage of the amendment bill.
He said that he will continue the demand for discussion on the strife-torn neighbouring Manipur.
K. Vanlalvena, the lone Rajya Sabha member from the state, also belonging to the MNF, said that he was opposed to the legislation of the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill, 2023 as it will be harmful to Mizoram and the entire northeast.
Vanlalvena expressed opinion that the amendment bill will also be passed by voice vote taking advantage of the pandemonium in the upper house of the Parliament.
“If I have a chance to speak, I will strongly oppose the proposed amendment bill and if there is a proper voting, I will vote against it, though I am NDA MP,” he said.
He said that a private bill on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is also being taken up by one MP to be introduced in the Parliament.
“The two Mizo MPs will oppose the UCC inside and outside the Parliament as the MNF leaders have been openly against it. The Mizoram Assembly had unanimously adopted an official resolution against the UCC and the MNF president, Chief Minister Zoramthanga also had already submitted his opposition to its legislation and implementation to the Law Commission of India,” Vanlalvena said.
The MP said that he had submitted a plea on Thursday to the Rajya Sabha chairman seeking adjournment motion to discuss the ongoing Manipur crisis under rule 267 persistently every day since July 21 but has not been allowed till day.
He said that he will continue to do so until the issue is allowed to be discussed in the Parliament.
The Parliament logjam continues and the two houses were adjourned till Monday with opposition parties demanding discussion on Manipur and also the Prime Minister to make a statement on the issue.
How the Bill poses threat to NE states?
The Forest Conservation Amendment Bill of 2023 is expected to significantly reduce the protection afforded to the already shrinking forests in the Northeastern region under the current Forest Conservation Act of 1980 (FCA 1980). The new bill aims to exclude various categories of land from the protective provisions of the FCA 1980.
States such as Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Manipur, which are highly ecologically sensitive, will be particularly affected by the clauses of the new bill. If accepted by Parliament, these states will be removed from the oversight of the FC Act 1980 under specific circumstances.
The FC Act 1980 currently imposes stringent regulations for obtaining clearance before forests can be diverted for non-forest activities. However, the proposed bill seeks to relax restrictions on certain types of lands, which has raised concerns among experts. They assert that the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill is designed to facilitate corporate interests and open up forest lands for commercial use.
The geographical locations of some states exacerbate the issue. States like Mizoram, Tripura, and Nagaland, which are surrounded by foreign countries, will be impacted multiple times over since the bill applies within a 100 km radius from the international boundary. Similarly, Meghalaya, sharing its entire southern border with Bangladesh, and Manipur, which borders Myanmar, will also experience significant coverage within the 100 km radius.
Arunachal Pradesh, with its entire northern border adjacent to Tibetan-China and a highly volatile line of actual control, will have substantial areas of its land falling under the 100 km clause.
The current situation already shows signs of exploitation, with numerous projects underway near international borders resulting in the indiscriminate felling of Himalayan forests, often disregarding existing regulations related to tree-felling, infrastructure development in border areas, and strategic road construction.
Critics argue that the open-ended nature of the proposed bill’s exemptions will allow for the exploitation of forests in these states without requiring clearances under the FC Act 1980. The bill mentions the possibility of compensatory measures, such as tree planting, as specified by the Central Government guidelines, but concerns remain about the potential environmental impact and effectiveness of such measures.