A central ministry has been stalling the implementation of a high-level government panel report on tribal rights by simply not expressing its opinion on the recommendations to impose tough norms to protect tribespeople from land alienation.
The ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) has not responded in the past eight months to a slew of letters from the tribal affairs ministry (MoTA) asking for its comments on the report, HT has learnt through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The panel headed by Prof Virginius Xaxa from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was constituted by the UPA government to suggest policy interventions to improve the socio-economic, health and educational status of tribals on the lines of the Sachar Committee for Muslims.
The committee submitted its report to the NDA government last May, suggesting several tough measures to be inserted into the Land Acquisition Act. Prohibition on non-tribals, including private companies, taking over tribal land, making gram sabha consent compulsory for acquisition of land even for government use and introduction of penalties against deliberate flouting of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) were among the recommendations.
The environment ministry in the past tried to do away with the gram sabha consent clause on diverting forestland for industrial purposes, a requirement under the FRA which some see as a hurdle to the NDA government’s economic development push.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the tribal affairs ministry in December last year to get comments from various ministries and state governments before a final decision on the report.
Government documents reveal except the environment ministry, all the key ministries and state governments have sent their comments to the tribal affairs ministry, most of them endorsing the panel’s findings.
The government’s own think tank, NITI Aayog, has said the two ministries should work together to prevent FRA violation during the diversion of forestland for industrial use.
The environment ministry said in a letter this year that it had not received a copy of the report only after the tribal affairs ministry threatened to go ahead with a decision on the recommendations.
“We had sent a copy of the report to all the ministries and states in December itself. When they (MoEFCC) got back to us, we sent them another copy but we did not get any response even then,” said a tribal affairs ministry official.
The environment ministry’s assistant inspector general (forests policy) SN Mishra initially expressed his ignorance about the report, but later told HT his ministry was finalising its comments on it.
It’s been 16 months since the committee submitted its report, but it has not been made public. “We were waiting for comments from all the stakeholders. We will now put up the report for a final decision without waiting any further,” said the tribal affairs ministry official.