Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council on Saturday sought change in rules to prohibit any diversion of forestland without gram sabha’s approval, higher participation of tribals in implementing Forest Rights Act (FRA) and allow them sale of minor forest produce.
To undo past injustices, the NAC's key recommendation is to have at least two-third tribals in area forest right committee, instead of the present one-third and allow them to sell minor forest produce improve their source of income.
To make gram sabha effective, the NAC wants to reduce mandatory quorum of gram sabha meeting from two-third to half of the total people in the village. And, to hold gram sabha at the village or hamlet level, instead of panchayat level, a body having several villages.
"The purpose of these recommendations is to ensure that the key features of this law - the democratic process of recognising rights, the protection to a range of livelihood rights, and the powers of communities to protect and conserve forests - are not undermined," the NAC has told the government.
Different groups including Campaign for Survival and Dignity and the government's own panel on FRA headed by NAC member NC Saxena had accused the government for failing to give forest dwellers their rights as enshrined in the FRA.
To address major concern of tribal communities, the NAC has said no claim should be rejected without hearing them and the government should not blindly follow the claim of forest departments. "Claims are often rejected at sub-divisional or district levels without hearing the claimant, which is contrary to principles of natural justice," the NAC said.
Lok Pal bill next
The NAC has decided to work on the Lok Pal bill, which has been hanging fire for over four decades now. Mired in controversies, the Lok Pal is billed as an independent body to inquire into allegations of corruption against MPs, ministers and the Prime Minister but after getting clearance from the presiding officer of the House concerned.
HTC, New Delhi