After the Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council (NAC) said that rights of forest dwellers should not be diluted in any way, pressure is mounting on the environment ministry to withdraw its controversial guidelines for declaring Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH).
A grouping of environmental organisations, including forest right activists and some wildlife groups, have sought withdrawal of the guidelines even as environment minister Jairam Ramesh has called a meeting this week to explain the ministry’s position on the new guidelines.
Apart from environment groups, officials from the ministry of Tribal Affairs, who are not happy with the guidelines and forest department officials have also been called for the meeting.
“The guidelines are in total violation of the Forest Rights Act,” said Ashish Kothari of NGO Kalpavriksh, after Ramesh issued a clarification on the purpose of the guidelines. The ministry had issued the guidelines in February this year, after which Ramesh issued a clarificatory note, but it has failed to pacify the agitating environmental activists.
“The guidelines should be withdrawn. There is a need for a wider discussion on CWH process and approach,” Kothari, said in a representation submitted on behalf of environmental groups to Ramesh.
Environmental groups also claimed that the new guidelines contradict the recommendations of a joint committee of environment and tribal affairs ministries on the Forest Rights Act, on critical tiger and wildlife habitats.
The biggest concern against the guidelines is the lack of a democratic process to determine the habitats, which once identified, will give powers to the government to relocate people. The groups have also alleged that the guidelines do not require a proper scientific and knowledge based approach in determining the habitats.
Highlighting several loopholes, the groups have said the guidelines aim at doing away with the consultation process before declaring a critical wildlife habitat and there is no clarity on the process for identification of wildlife areas for declaring them as CWH under the guidelines.
As against the claims of the government, not much headway has been made in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in over 600 protected areas, which could be declared as wildlife habitats under the new guidelines.
“Inevitably, in most of the protected areas, declaring CWHs will lead to the FRA process being undermined or short-circuited, as the state government will scramble to try to finish the FRA process,” the letter read.
They also claimed that the clarification issued by the minister in February has created more confusion, as the guidelines fail to mention that the CWHs will be identified only after the rights of tribals are settled, as stated by the minister.