Congress today expressed concern over the Modi government's actions leading to dilution and weakening of the Forest Rights Act 2006 -- a key legislation enacted under the party-led UPA regime that provided for empowerment of tribal people and land rights to them in forest areas.
Party spokesman and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh told a news conference at the AICC headquarters here this afternoon,'' The Act is one of the outstanding achievements of the previous UPA government that provided to 16.7 lakh forest dwellers, predominantly tribals, legal title for the lands they have been residing on and cultivating for decades...each patta(title) is about 4 acres...thousands of villages have received community forest resource rights, ownership rights over non-timber forest produce like bamboo strengthening their livelihoods and also food security.
"This is nothing short of a revolution made possible by this far-reaching legislation passed by Parliament in December 2006," Mr Ramesh asserted.
Now, however, a series of actions of the Modi government had diluted and weakened the Act..the actions particularly include notification of rules under the colonial Indian Forests Act, guidelines for privatisation of forests, diversion of forest lands without consent of the gram sabhas, massive plantation in tribal lands among many others, he pointed out.
"These moves have greatly affected the early gains made by the FRA to empower the tribals and even halted the process of implementation in many states...all these exhibit intolerance towards the democratic governance of forests in the country and the protective legislations (FRA, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas Act,1996) enacted after a long struggle by the tribal and forest dwellers.
''The Ministry of Environment and the Forest Department had obstructed and undermined the Community Forest Rights and authorities of Gram Sabhas through various programmes, schemes, policies,'' he added.
Elaborating, Mr Ramesh said: "the decision taken by the Forest Ministry to open up40 per cent of the forests in India for private sector has created huge uproar...in August 2015, the Ministry issued guidelines to handing over degraded forests to private companies for afforestation. The guidelines specify that, aside from fodder, local communities' rights will be restricted to "10-15 per cent" of the allotted plots.
''The guidelines require the state governments to initiate the process of identification of the forest lands which can be handed over to private companies through MoUs...state governments have already swung into action to actualise this as was reported from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh,'' he added.
Privatisation of forests was clearly antagonistic and violative of the legal democratic governance and management framework established under the Forest Rights Act which extends to all forest lands accessed and used by tribal and forest dwellers in India.
Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have brought into effect the Village Forest Rules under the Indian Forest Act 1927, thereby undermining the 2006 law and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, by an Act of the colonial government, the Congress leader quipped.
Support to anti-Forest Act Rules such as village forest rules by the Central government has now encouraged the forest department to implement similar programmes in other states...though community forest rights (CFRs) are now recognised as a new legal category of forest to be governed and managed by the Gram Sabhas but the forest department continue to carry out forestry operations in the CFR areas in violation with the FRA provisions, Mr Ramesh said.
There is a strong resistance in implementation and even violation of the Act in forest areas proposed for diversion for various projects.
Since NDA came to power, he added, the Ministry has issued number of guidelines and circulars exempting compliance of FRA and consent of Gram Sabhas in the process of diversion of forest land...this is despite the fact that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has pointed out that such exemptions are illegal and that the Forest Ministry or no other government agency has the authority to exempt legal requirements under FRA. However the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change guidelines still operate and continue to violate Act in the forest diversion process in many states. Likewise, rights recognition processes were delayed and stagnated where development projects are in the pipeline such as in states like Goa, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, he said.MORE UNI AR-SS SW-RP1640
-- (UNI) -- C-1-1-DL0089-562922.Xml