For a strange reason, the ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to remain silent on National Forest Commission’s comments on Scheduled Tribes (Recognisation of Forest Rights) Bill.
The commission had said that the Tribal Bill would be harmful to the interests of forests and ecological security of the country. It also said forest encroachments to the extent of 3.60 lakh acres per annum have already been settled. If any settlement are still remaining, the State governments can appoint commissions, headed by a judge, to look into the claims and it should not be left to he gram sabha as stated in the Bill.
In its comments on the commission’s recommendations submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministry has decided to maintain silence on recommendations 340-345 on the tribal rights. “It is a matter being looked after by another government ministry,” an official explained.
The ministry’s neutral stand apparently helped the Group of Ministers headed by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukerjee to end stalemate on the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report on the Tribal Bill. “The GoM has agreed to whatever dilution the Tribal Affairs ministry had suggested in the JPC report,” said an environment ministry official.
JPC had recommended that rights of all forest dwellers, irrespective of tribal or not, should be recognised. It had asked that the cut-off date for recognising right should be December 2005 and not October 1980 as stated in the original bill. The third major recommendation was that gram sabha would recognise the rights of the dwellers.
But, the government has not agreed with JPC recommendations in totality. The GoM believed to have recommended that rights of only tribals would be recognised and the cut-off date could not be December 2005.
However, the GoM gave a major relief to forest dwellers stating that they would get financial compensation for relocation, apart from getting land for the forest land taken over by the state government. The GoM has also suggested that approach of consultation before rehabilitation should be adopted.
The Tribal Affairs ministry is now drafting a new Tribal Bill based on GoM recommendations for bringing it before the Cabinet soon. The legislation is likely to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament.
That may not be without stiff opposition from the Left Parties and conservationalists. Brinda Karat, polit bureau member of CPIM, has been demanding that the JPC report should be accepted in totality. “There is no scope for dilution,” she recently said.
PK Sen, former director of Project Tiger, accused the politicians of trying to grab forest land through tribals. “I am sure that the Tribal Rights law will result in devastation of forests as politicians will take benefit of their claim to own forest land,” he said.
Vandana Shiva of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, however, tried to take the middle path. “The government should try to strike a balance between tribal rights and projecting forests. Both the necessary to save India’s huge biodiversity,” she said