The Union environment ministry has proposed to amend the Forest Conservation Act to do away with the need for prior forest clearance for projects related to national security and border infrastructure, PTI reported on Tuesday.

The government has invited suggestions from state governments, Union Territory administrations and citizens on the proposed amendments within 15 days.

The Centre, in a consultation paper sent to all states on October 2, noted that any land that has vegetation can be considered as forest land under the Act, if local regulations define it as such.

“Identification of such land is subjective and arbitrary to some extent,” the Centre said. “This leads to ambiguity and has been observed to be resulted into [a] lot of resentment and resistance particularly from private individuals and organisations.”

The Union government said that development of infrastructure along the international border areas “is crucial for keeping our borders intact and to uphold the sovereignty of the country.”

The consultation paper said that the existing norms to obtain approval for non-forestry use of forest land often delay strategic and security projects. It added that this results in “setback to development of such infrastructure at critical locations”.

The Union government also proposes to exempt land acquired before 1980 from the requirement of prior government approval. The Forest Conservation Act was passed in 1980.

“There is a strong resentment in the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways, etc for interpretation of the scope of applicability of the Act over the right of way (RoW) of railways, highways, etc,” the Centre’s consultation paper said. “In most cases, these RoWs are claimed to have been formally acquired by these developmental organisations long before 1980, with a specific purpose to construct / establish rail line and roads”.

According to the existing law, land-holding agencies such as the railways have to obtain approval under the Act, and also have to pay compensatory levies such as Net Present Value, Compensatory Afforestation, etc for the use of such land, The Hindu reported.