Several BJP-ruled states have brought rules and orders that could scuttle implementation of the forest rights act (FRA), reveal documents available with Hindustan Times.
The 2006 law upholds consent of villagers to divert forestland for industrial projects, considered a stumbling block to the Union government’s push for industries.
The three forest-rich states of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, which are home to a sizeable tribal population, have come up with rules and orders that, if implemented, may prevent recognition of tribal rights over forestland under the FRA.
Tribal rights activists said the move to circumvent the law, which was to be implemented in toto to safeguard forest rights of local inhabitants, came from the states after the Union environment ministry unsuccessfully tried several times to dilute the FRA.
In Chhattisgarh, as reported by HT on Monday, the BJP government has asked gram sabhas or village committees to certify that the law was implemented in full despite large-scale gaps. Such certificates are mandatory for diversion of forestland for industrial purpose.
Toeing the Chhattisgarh line, Jharkhand instructed its deputy commissioners on July 28 to settle all the “eligible” claims of FRA within a month and get implementation certificates from gram sabhas by October 2.
In eight years since the law was enforced, only 494 community forest rights titles have been issued in the mineral-rich and Maoist-hit state. This breached FRA rules that guaranteed community forest rights title to every village with forest dwellers.
Experts said the one-month deadline for settling all eligible claims would leave several tribals without their legitimate rights.
In Madhya Pradesh, a set of village forest rules was issued on July 4 through which the government has sought to declare wooded areas traditionally used by forest dwellers as “village forest”, instead of giving communities titles over such land under the FRA.
The FRA bestows absolute authority to gram sabhas over community forests, but the new Madhya Pradesh rules give the forest department control over such land.
Maharashtra, which issued similar rules last year, has asked villages with community forest rights titles to convert them into village forests.
Several gram sabhas in the Maoist hub of Gadchiroli complained they were under pressure from the authorities to give up the right to their forestland.
The Union tribal affairs ministry objected to the scheme but the Maharashtra government paid no heed and went ahead with its rules, spending crores to promote the plan.
About 40 million hectares should be covered under FRA across the country, according to an analysis of data by US-based non-profit, Rights and Resources Initiative. But titles for only 3.5 million hectares have been issued so far.