Four days after the Environment ministry’s bid to undercut the Forest Rights Act, minister Jairam Ramesh has intervened and said no forest dwellers will be relocated without “consent of gram sabhas and the affected persons”.
In response to an HT report on February 12 saying the guidelines violate the Forest Rights Act (FRA), Ramesh, in a six page note, reiterated his point saying that extensive consultations with sabha and the affected persons will have to be undertaken for notification of Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH), but with a big change.
“The extensive consultation will mean consent,” he said. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), a group representing tribals, welcomed the minister’s note but said his statement is not reflected in the guidelines.
“Simply because the note says otherwise will not change the way guidelines will be implemented. The guideline nowhere says that notification will occur only after consultation / consent of the gram sabha,” said Shankar Gopalakrishnan of CSD.
The minister also said the guidelines ensure that the habitats are declared with the voluntary consent of the affected people, to give the state governments ample scope to explore the possibility of co-existence of wildlife and humans.
“If such a possibility is not practicable, the expert committee -- which also includes the district tribal welfare officer and a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) working in the field of tribal affairs -- will hold consultations with the gram sabha for voluntary relocation,” the minister said.
CSD said the words "co-existence" do not appear in the guidelines anywhere (except in the quote of the section itself). “There is only a vague statement that the requirements of the law should be met,” Gopalakrishnan said.
While the minister said critical wildlife habitats will be identified on a case to case basis following scientific and objective criteria and after settling the rights of tribals, it does not find mention in the guidelines.
The minister said that his ministry will ensure that the FRA is “respected” in implementation of wildlife conservation programmes and if any violation is reported, with full documentation, it will ensure that the situation is rectified.
But, the ministry’s own committee headed by former bureaucrat N C Saxena had found that relocation in critical tiger habitats was continuing without recognizing their rights or any scientific studies.