The Environment ministry has violated the law, Forest Rights Act (FRA), it used to denying bauxite mining for Vedanta Resources in Orissa, by allowing declaration of critical wildlife habitats without scientific assessment of the same.
The ministry on Thursday notified guidelines replacing the October 2007 notification providing financial incentive to the state governments to declare wildlife areas outside the existing 600 protected areas as critical wildlife areas.
The new rules is being seen as a way to underestimate the FRA with the new empowerment of the state governments declaring forest areas as wildlife areas, thereby making application of FRA difficult. And, once that is done the state can relocate people outside the wildlife areas by giving a compensation of upto Rs 10 lakh per family.
For identifying the new Critically Wildlife Habitats (CWH), the rules do not specify the scientific criteria, which are explicitly mentioned in FRA. The forest law clearly states that only those places, where it is proven that the people were hindering protection of wildlife, should be declared as CWHs.
“The process of identification is to be carried out by the district forest officer and a "local scientific institution" in the space of a mere 60 days. The result can only be imagined - exactly as occurred in the case of critical tiger habitats, all existing protected areas will simply be sought to be converted into critical wildlife habitats, followed by pressurising people living inside them to relocate,” said a group representing those living in forests, Campaign for Survival and Dignity.
Moreover, the entire process of relocation to be democratic may not turn so transparent as the entire process is guided by the forest department, who the activists describe as anti-forest dwellers. Another objection to the guidelines is that there is no participation of people representing tribals in the entire process of identification of CWHs and relocation.
While the new rules speak about consent of the gram sabha, the same is negated as the guidelines say that those who agree for relocation should be provided with the compensation package. This could mean pressurizing some people to opt for the compensation package, thereby moving relocation step by step, in violation of FRA.
The new rules are silent without regarding to an important provision in the forest rights act that no relocation should take place unless proper living facilities are provided at the relocate site. People have died in Chhattisgarh and Orissa in recent part after relocated at the site without such facilities.
Forest Rights Act says gram sabha consent for tribal relocation is mandatory; new rule says they only need to be consulted
No scientific criteria to identify critically wildlife habitat
Identification process to be done by forest officer, who activists say are anti-forest dweller.