After tribal rights activists and opposition parties attacked the central government’s policies for not respecting tribal rights, it’s now the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti) Aayog which is criticising the government for “undermining” the tribal rights law.
In its observations on a high-level-committee (HLC) report of the government, reviewed by HT using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the government’s think-tank has said that all the key features of Forest Rights Act (FRA) “have been undermined by a combination of apathy and sabotage during the process of implementation.”
It said the central and the state governments have actively pursued policies that are in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the act that recognises traditional rights of tribals over forestland.
Niti Aayog’s comments have come in the findings of the ‘High Level Committee on Socioeconomic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities in India’ that the implementation of the FRA was obstructed by “contradictory processes” like diversion of forest land for industrial purpose which “was displacing tribals and alienating their rights.”
FRA upholds the consent of the gram sabhas (village councils) before forest land is diverted. The Centre and the states in the past have tried to bypass this requirement of the law to fast track industrialisation. Alienation of tribals from forestland is considered to be one of the major reasons for fuelling Left Wing Extremism in the country.
The HLC was constituted by the UPA government in 2013. In its report submitted to the government last year, it blamed policies of the governments for violating tribals rights. Endorsing the finding of the HLC on forestland diversion, Niti Aayog has said the purpose of FRA was being defeated due to denial of rights to majority of tribals.
“Unless immediate remedial measures are taken, instead of undoing the historical injustice to tribals and other traditional forest dwellers, the act will have the opposite outcome of making them even more vulnerable to eviction and denial of their customary access to forests,” said the Niti Aayog.
In December last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office asked all the ministries and states, including the Niti Aayog, to send their comments on the HLC report. The Aayog asked the ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA), the nodal agency for implementation of FRA to take up the issue with the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) which administers forestland diversion.
“We have sent the HLC reports to MoEFCC for their comments but have not received any response yet,” said an official in MoTA.