India’s senior most forest officer P J Dalip Kumar, director general of forests, is under fire from members of the N C Saxena committee on implementation of Forest Rights Act for misreading their report and thereby rejecting its recommendations.
Kumar, in his remarks on the report submitted to environment minister Jairam Ramesh and tribal affairs minister Kanti Lal Bhuria in the first week of January, had rejected most recommendations stating they it will destroy Indian forests.
Environment and tribal affairs ministries have to implement the recommendations of the committee, which seeks more livelihood avenues for dwellers from forests and their active support in conservation.
“The proposal that state forest department will give the protection while the community would have ownership/control is not a workable arrangement,” Kumar said, while responding to the committee’s recommendation that forest dwellers should get control over community land. Ramesh had accepted the recommendation.
Hitting back at the DG, half of the committee members said his claims were based on misreading of the report and were not backed up by their fieldwork. The committee had said that only 20,000 community rights have been give as against individual rights to 1.4 crore individual rights.
The members told both Ramesh and Bhuria that the community forest rights have not been given a fair trial to draw the conclusion that the communities are not interested and the DG’s contention on this issue was inappropriate.
Kumar response also did not elaborate on how the forest departments will help in implementing the community rights, they said.
The written response also termed Kumar’s claim that the committee recommendation that prior occupation should not be insisted for seeking a right was total misreading of the report. “We never made such a recommendation,” said Ravi Chellam, one of the committee members.
In a point wise rejoinder to the DG’s response, the members accused the DG of failing to respond to several other recommendations where the environment ministry is required to take a lead.
One of the issues was illegal eviction of tribals from forestland leading to vitiation of the Forest Rights Act and fresh encroachments reported from some areas. Another issue was involvement of gram sabhas in overall management of forests and to ensure locals get rightful access to minor forest produce such as bamboo and tendu leaves.
They also wanted to know how the environment ministry will ensure that clearance for diversion of forestland complies with Forest Rights Act, including the ministry’s circular of 2009. The ministry had made it mandatory to seek gram sabha approval before diversion of forestland in tribal areas.