Rift within govt over tribal rights

  • Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 02, 2015 00:49 IST

The tribal affairs ministry has described the environment ministry circular relaxing the forest rights act provisions as in “violation of the law”. Tribal affairs ministry said diluting the forest act had the potential to create public unrest in tribal areas, which are also Maoist-affected districts.

The environment ministry in October, 2014 had written to district collectors that plantations notified as forests in 1930 and falling in areas having no tribal population should not come under the purview of the forest rights act, meaning that mandatory consent for the projects coming up there will not be required.

“The letter violates the law,” said Hrusikesh Panda, tribal affairs secretary. He asked his counterpart in the environment minister Ashok Lavasa to immediately withdraw the circular dated October 28. Panda had also objected to the environment ministry issuing advisories on FRA without consulting them, the nodal ministry for implementation of the FRA.

Panda also said the forest rights act does not provide any scope for an executive agency to relax the applicability of the law and the relaxation can be done only after a due process is followed. And in case of the October circular that due process was not followed.

The secretary said that repeated dilution of the FRA has sent the message that the government was against “fair” implementation of the forest rights act and it was not desirable in the interest of “peace and governance” in forest areas. Panda also marked the copy of the letter to home secretary Anil Goswami saying that the issue needs to be taken up at the meeting on Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts, which are also the home for majority of tribals in India.

Panda had also objected to repeated claims that the Forest Rights Act was leading to delay in project approvals and execution saying there was no evidence to this effect.

“If there has been any study or evidence on delay of projects because of the processes of FRA, this should be brought to the notice of the (tribal affairs) ministry. Clearance of major projects take a long time because of the layers through which such clearance is given,” the letter stated.

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