In India, the setting up of large projects in forest areas can be undertaken only after government permission is obtained under the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) of 1980. Today, this approval process includes the enumeration and valuation of forest loss, and the financing of compensatory afforestation schemes to offset the loss. These procedures were designed through the orders and judgements of the Supreme Court of India in a set of cases that started in 1995 and continue to this day. These procedures are purportedly aimed to protect and restore forest ecologies in India.
In this article we analyse the Supreme Court’s processes and orders between 1996 and 2006 which transformed the political ecology of forests in India. The judicial and expert discourses treated forest regulation and conservation as a techno-managerial exercise, separating it from social-ecological concerns such as historical dispossession of Adivasis and other forest-dependent people, and violent state suppression of diverse forms of forest management. The judicial interventions are instructive to understand the policy processes of green neoliberalism and the implications of the financialization of forests on environmental governance in India.