The Union Environment Ministry has proposed to amend the Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927 to replace a jail term of six months with Rs 500 for illegal trespassing and tree cutting in forests.
In a notice issued on July 9, the ministry said the exercise is focused on decriminalisation of ”relatively minor violations of law, expeditious resolution through compounding of relatively smaller offences, reducing compliance burden on citizens, rationalization of penalties and preventing harassment of citizens”.
The IFA provides the legal framework for the protection and management of forest, transit of forest produce and timber, and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce. The Act provides mechanisms to ensure notification of reserved, protected and village forests, and protection of forest resources, forest biodiversity and wildlife of the country.
It also lists certain acts, such as trespassing, tree felling, letting cattle damage a tree etc., which are prohibited for the protection and conservation of forests. In case of non-compliance or contravention, the offender can be punished with up to six months in jail or a fine of Rs 500 or both.
The ministry said that at times, there are difficulties in differentiating between a major and minor offence and because of that punishments are often not distinct. ”This abets habitual offenders to commit more crimes as there is the same level of punishment for both first time and repeat offenders. Hence, it is required to incorporate differentiated penal provisions in the Act by amending it,” it said.
The ministry has requested the general public to send comments and suggestions on the proposal by July 31.
It had recently proposed to amend the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 to decriminalise its existing provisions in order to ”weed out fear of imprisonment for simple violations”. Amendments have been proposed to decriminalise the Air Act 1981 and Water Act 1974 too.