The environment ministry and tribal affairs ministry are locked in a fight over forest rights and two months into the confrontation, no side is showing any sign of giving in to the other.
The bone of contention is environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s bid to ease rules under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to enable faster clearance of projects — a move tribal affairs minister Jual Oram, who is a tribal from Odisha, is dead against. With no breakthrough in sight, the green ministry is now planning to seek legal opinion on whether it can change the rules without the tribal ministry’s consent.
Javadekar’s ministry had in October 2014 issued a circular to all district collectors saying FRA should not be applied to plantations not notified as forests in 1930 for having no tribal population. This would have exempted a large chunk of forest area from the Act and eased the process of getting approval for projects coming up there.
It prompted tribal affairs secretary Hrusikesh Panda to write to his counterpart in the environment ministry, Ashok Lavasa, in November calling the circular a “violation of the (FRA) law” and demanding its withdrawal.
The environment ministry has been trying to get Oram on board ever since, even expressing willingness to amend the circular.
A ministry official said the circular was legally sustainable. Another said the differences would be resolved in a couple of meetings.
But its compromise formula — which proposes making FRA applicable to some plantations but with the trade-off of easier norms for getting the consent of gram sabhas for projects — has cut no ice. Tribal affairs ministry sources said Oram has been resisting the environment ministry’s pressure to ease the FRA norms. “There was even a meeting in the prime minister’s office but the issue was not resolved,” said one source.
Sources said the environment ministry was now likely to seek the law ministry’s opinion. “In our view, we need to consult the tribal affairs ministry but its approval is not needed. We will seek a legal view on this,” one source said.