Forest Conservation Amendment 2023 and its implication for Nagaland

Lhoubeilatuo Kire, IFS (Retd)
Kuda village, Dimapur

Much has been written and discussed about the implications of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (Principal Law-FC Act) and its Amendment, 2023 in the social media and other forum at various levels. I want to share some relevant questions nagging me, which the public also deserves to get answers from their elected MLAs (mandated by their constituents).

1.    The State Government has spoken its mind through many forums that Article 371A protects Nagaland from central laws which derives its safeguards from the Article 371A, Clause 1 (a) (iv) - (1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution–(a) No Act of Parliament in respect of–(iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources, shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides. Perhaps, these clause & sections underlines our safeguards/protection in theory and Constitutional provisions. Sadly, the practical reality is more the opposite of what we have been led to believe about applicability of central laws in Nagaland vis-à-vis 371A.

2.    In a response over the debate on Citizens Amendment Bill ( CAB)  to Dr Chumben Murry, MLA on 23rd February 2019 with reference to the State of Nagaland Act 1962, Section 1962, sub section 92) to adaptation of laws in force before Nagaland becoming a State- The advised stand of Government: On 22nd February 1966 during the 6th session of the 1st House, the Governor Vishnu Sahay in his Address to the House stated that: “Upon formation of the State of Nagaland, all existing laws were continued after December 1963”. This may also be interpreted that existing laws before 1963 were continued, but the message/understanding emanating from this statement would infer that all central laws enacted in future would be bound by the provisions of Article 371A under  its  various clauses quoted above.

3.    The moot question now: Does the Article 371A protect Nagaland from central laws automatically? Are we to understand and focus on to the theoretical stated protection and live in a world of denial? The following documents appended below with this letter would amplify and raise further questions about safety net of 371A and the emergent need for our lawmakers in this 14th House of NLA to debate, discuss and take a final call about past & future central laws with respect to their applicability in Nagaland.

a)    The Hon’ble Supreme Court on WP 202 of 1995, vide its various interim orders including the 12.12.1996 order defined forests irrespective of ownership. This will bring all categories of forests (95% as stated by CM - private & community owned) under its provision of FC Act 1980.  

b) In 1996, upon getting the interim  SC order,  Imtisungit, then  Nagaland Forest Minister wrote letter to the Union Forest Minister on 4th  September 1997  requesting  that the erroneous reply made in Lok Sabha to Question No 485 does not reflect factual position under Article 371A and that it be set right.  

c)    Imtisungit, then Nagaland Forest Minister made a Statement on 6th September 1997 reiterating the position of the same above on floor of Assembly.

d) Despite these two documents referred above and steps taken by Nagaland Government, the Union Government of India took two very sensitive alarming decisions/Actions which seriously undermine and negate all our understanding and beliefs of Article 371A.

i.    Almost a year later, on 15th September 1998, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests wrote to Government of Nagaland citing that Union Ministry of Law & Justice opinion that the FC Act 1980 is applicable to the State of Nagaland.

ii.    The Union Government made amendments in 2023 to the Principal FC Act of 1980 and inserted two very ominous fate 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 forests 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. 

iii. Unstarred Question No 3228 answered on 30.08.2013 on ownership of Natural Resources in reply to Question by CM Chang, MP- whether the State Government of Nagaland has the power to frame its own rules relating to PNG in Nagaland under Article 371A? The Union Minister Petroleum & Natural Gas replied - The Union Ministry of Home Affairs advised that Article 371A does not confer legislative power to frame rules under PNG as the subject is covered under List – 1 rests with Parliament and ask Nagaland Government to withdraw its notifications & resolution of 2012 and related resolutions.

4.    The above Central Government actions on the two major developments above require immediate unity of approach by all stakeholders–Political Parties, Tribal Hohos, CSOs, well-wishers to our future generations in Nagaland to raise a UNITED voice against erosion of 371A safeguards enshrined under the Constitution of India. 

It is learned that the next session of the 14th House of NLA is being convened in the next month – September 2023. It is my humble and fervent prayers that our lawmakers rise above party/alliances affiliations to discuss, debate, and resolve for a consensus Resolution for the sake of our children and assertion of 371A safeguards through:

a)    A unanimous Resolution on the powers of Article 371A, thereby, resolving rejection of the Forest Conservation Amendment 2023; its Principal Act 1980 and all other past central laws not relevant to Nagaland in the context of Nagaland.

b) Pass Resolution to authorize the State Government to seek immediate clarification and interpretation from the Supreme Court of India about rights and safeguards under Article 371A to clear up confusion in various Union Government Ministries once & for all. 

If Mizoram with its Article 371–G can pass Resolution against this Amendment 2023, why Nagaland should hesitate? 
May Almighty God, Guide and make us take the right decision for our FUTURE.