After farmers, the Central government is looking for a higher compensation regime for forestland acquired from tribals and forest dwellers for various projects.
The move comes after the rural development ministry issued a draft land acquisition bill providing for market-linked compensation to farmers and the demand by tribal groups for a national policy on the rehabilitation of tribals displaced by large-scale mining across India to end lop-sided growth. Over 1.64 lakh hectares of forestland has been lost due to mining affecting lakhs of tribals.
Tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo, who took charge this month, wants a clear policy on higher compensation to people displaced because of the increasing number of private projects on forestland.
"The compensation should be based on the rights of the tribals settled under the Forest Rights Act. No clearance to projects should be given until all rights of the people living in forest were settled and adequate compensation is decided," Deo told HT.
A government committee headed by the National Advisory Council member N C Saxena had found that a large number of claims of individual rights of forest dwellers under the the FRA, whose enforcement is job of Deo's ministry, has been wrongly rejected.To ensure that FRA provisions are enforced before approving projects, Deo said no clearance to projects should be given until his ministry certifies that the rights of forest dwellers under the watershed law are settled.
"We have a definite role to play in the environment clearance process," he said, while adding that he will be meeting environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan soon. In addition, he sought a transparent formula for determining compensation for different type of projects.
Deo, a tribal from Andhra Pradesh, says his ministry will play a proactive role to enforcing FRA so that there is no repeat of violation of tribal rights as in the case of mining permission given to Orissa Mining Corporation for Vedanta Resources almunium factory in Lanjigarh district of Orissa. The environment ministry had cancelled the clearance after it found that rights of local tribals were not settled before allowing mining.
The 64-year-old minister agrees that the tribals have not gained economically and socially from huge private sector investment in the tribal areas. Half of India's rich mineral districts are in the tribal areas. Three districts in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh account for 70% of India's coal reserves and 80 % of high quality iron-ore but are still among the poorest regions of the nation.
"We want to change how projects are executed in tribal areas. It should lead to empowerment rather than disenchantment," he said.