Proposed forest conservation act rules: Green groups from Himalayan states seek withdrawal
More than 60 environmental groups, organisations, thinkers, intellectuals and activists from Himalayan states have written to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) seeking the withdrawal of the proposed rules in the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) in order to prevent the growing ecological crisis and forest degradation in the Himalayan region and to ensure the rights of indigenous communities and forest dwellers
More than 60 environmental groups, organisations, thinkers, intellectuals and activists from Himalayan states have written to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) seeking the withdrawal of the proposed rules in the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) in order to prevent the growing ecological crisis and forest degradation in the Himalayan region and to ensure the rights of indigenous communities and forest dwellers.
This contentious move by the ministry is an attempt to push companies and development projects vigorously and bypass the NOC of Gram Sabhas which is considered a hindrance, and has been strongly opposed. The memorandum also tackled the bureaucratic decision making devoid of multi-disciplinary perspectives, disregards for indigenous knowledge systems, and the rigid non-democratic manner in which these amendments, rules and proposals are being put in front of citizens, they alleged.
Today in the Himalayas, problems such as climate change related disaster risk, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, landslides, drying up of rivers, depleting ground water sources, melting glaciers, hollowing of mountains and pollution related to solid and hazardous waste are set to become a new normal.
Already, the Himalayan region is known to be ecologically sensitive and geologically fragile, where even small tampering with nature can have a huge impact on the lives of millions of local inhabitants. In the last few years, increasing violations of environmental norms, gaps in provisions of social accountability like decreasing democratic public participation in the environmental impact assessment process, has aggravated the situation.
Within such a context, the amendment made in the rules of the FCA in 2017 towards the provision of Gram Sabha NOC under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 was added, was a promising step taken by the MoEFCC. But according to the proposed rules this time, the provision of taking NOC of Gram Sabha after the second phase of the project not only raises questions on the democratic processes followed in the country but also raises questions on the intention of the policy makers sitting in the ministries and the existence of such ministries, it said.
Sunder Negi, a member of “No Means No Campaign” in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh says that on one hand a tribal has been elected as the President of the country and on the other hand the rights of tribals were being undermined in this way.
“If this continues, then the tribal area will be visible only on the map and the small tribal area like Kinnaur, will not be able to stop its culture, environment, dialect, tradition, and its identity from being presented to the big companies,” Negi said.
Eventually our country and state will lose the balance of its natural resources and human society, he said adding that it will prove to be a great loss for all. The rivers of our region will flow in the tunnels, natural calamities will increase and there will be an atmosphere of anger among the people in the border areas.
A volunteer from “Dibang Resistance Group” from Arunachal Pradesh said: “New FCA rules 2022 threatens our indigenous movement against hydropower in Arunachal Pradesh as it prioritises state consent before the people. “Hydropower projected as renewable or green energy undermines the massive scale of destruction in cultural and ecological integrity of people and places as witnessed historically across the globe.” he said.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, founder of the “J&K RTI Movement”, Kashmir said that the Forest Rights Act was rolled out in Jammu and Kashmir after 13 years of its enactment and by amending the FCA, tribal people of Jammu & Kashmir and other Traditional Forest Dwellers will be again deprived of rights under FRA.
In the wake of this crisis, the signatories of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal, Meghalaya, Manipur and Sikkim have demanded immediate repeal of the Forest Conservation Act - Proposed Rules 2022. They demand an incremental shift from top-down approach of today’s forest management and governance system towards a more inclusive, participatory and ‘just’ forest governance – which can only be initiated post implementation of FRA and similar laws/regulations.