The Prime Minister’s Office bid to dilute forest right rules for speedier approval to the projects is being resisted by the tribal affairs ministry, mandated to enforce the Forest Rights Act.
The Prime Minister’s Office has asked the environment and tribal affairs ministries to seek mandatory consent of gram sabha - a body of all villagers – only if the designated project affects the quality of life of people living close to the project area.
The recommendation made by Pulak Chatterjee (principal advisor to Prime Minister), constituted to speed up project approvals, is similar to the provision that existed before the Forest Rights Act came into being from 2008.
It says that gram sabha’s consent is required only if the quality of life is affected from mining or submergence leading to huge displacement of people. “A slew of other industrial projects would get clearance without approval of locals,” a forest right activist said.
The Chatterjee committee also said that gram sabha’s consent would not be required for diversion of forestland if public hearing has been held to get environment clearance.
The environment clearance process precedes the process for forest clearance.
Holding public hearing is must for getting environment clearance and it cannot be construed as obtaining gram sabha consent.
However, for getting forest approval getting sabha consent is must under the environment ministry’s 2009 rules of the Forest Rights Act, reiterated in July 2012 by the tribal affairs ministry.
The PMO wants the environment ministry to first amend the 2009 circular and then tribal affairs to incorporate the relevant changes in the July 2012 circular.
The environment ministry is not adverse to the changes if the tribal affairs ministry agreed.
“We don’t administer the Forest Rights Act…It is for the tribal affairs ministry to make changes,” said a senior environment ministry official.
Tribal affairs ministry is, however, reluctant to change its rule.
“How can we make the rules in violation of the parent (Forest Rights) Act?” asked a senior tribal affairs ministry functionary. “Such a change would jeopardize rights of tribals and forest dwellers and they would continue to suffer”.