Clause for gram sabha consent missing in Forest Conservation Rules 2022: Critics
The critics said while the Forest Conservation Rules 2022 shifts the responsibility on forest rights to the state governments, the clause on obtaining gram sabha consent is completely missing from it
Even as the Centre’s new Forest Conservation Rules 2022 published on June 28 faced criticism for allegedly diluting certain provisions on recognising forest rights before granting clearance to a project, Opposition parties and legal activists alleged that the rules have also removed obligation to get gram sabha consent, which was introduced through an amendment in 2017.
They said while on forest rights the responsibility has been shifted to state governments in the new rules, the clause on obtaining gram sabha consent is completely missing from it, thereby weakening the say of local people in the project.
The conservator of forests could take the formalities of granting forest clearance forward only when forest rights had been recognised and gram sabha consent obtained. This rule on obtaining consent of each gram sabha involved is missing in the new rules.
Through the forest conservation rules notified on March 6, 2017, the Union environment ministry made it mandatory that the district collector shall complete the process of recognition and vesting of forest rights in accordance with the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 for the entire forest land indicated in the proposal; obtain consent of each Gram Sabha having jurisdiction over the whole or a part of the forest land indicated in the proposal for the diversion of such forest land forward his findings in this regard to the Conservator of Forests.
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It also said the conservator of forests shall examine the factual details and feasibility of the proposal, carry out site inspection in case the area of forest land proposed to be diverted is more than forty hectares, and forward the proposal along with his recommendations to the Nodal Officer authorised by the state government for further scrutiny.
The new rules clarified that the onus of recognising forest rights is with the state governments and did away with the role of the ministry in recognition of forest rights before forest clearance is granted to any infrastructure or other project coming up on forest land.
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“The State Government or Union territory Administration, as the case may be, after receiving the ‘Final’ approval of the Central Government under Section 2 of the Act, and after fulfilment and compliance of the provisions of all other Acts and rules made thereunder, as applicable including ensuring settlement of rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (No. 2 of 2007), shall issue order for diversion, assignment of lease or dereservation, as the case may be,” the new rules said.
“The Forest Conservation Rules, 2016 had embedded the need for Gram Sabha consent as a procedural requirement for the purposes of prior approval for forest diversion by the environment ministry. The 2022 Rules, do not include this requirement. While the process of ensuring recognition of rights and final forest diversion is the responsibility of the state government, it will be important for the environment ministry to clarify why the procedural requirement for Gram Sabha consent as per their previous Rules is not reflected in the new procedure prescribed in the 2022 Rules. In effect, the environment ministry has stepped back on its own position first clarified in 2009 through a circular and 2016 Rules gazette in March 2017,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research.
K Raju, national coordinator of the Congress’ SC, ST, OBC and minority departments, wrote to Harsh Chouhan, Chairperson of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes on Tuesday saying that the FC Rules 2022 completely undermine and violate the Forest Rights Act 2006 by diluting the legal requirements for FRA compliance and seeking consent of gram sabha before diverting forest land.
Communist Party of India (CPI) member of Parliament (MP) Binoy Viswam wrote to the union environment minister Bhupender Yadav on Tuesday saying that the new rules will lead to “grave violations” of the Forest Rights Act. “Approaching the gram sabha after the final approval is granted will only make its role irrelevant and the powers of the rights holders under FRA redundant,” the letter said.
Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav clarified on Sunday that Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022 does not dilute or infringe with the provisions envisaged under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
In a note shared on social media, Yadav said the Forest (Conservation) Rules 2022 are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 rather rules emphasise the compliance of relevant provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 by the nodal agencies recognised under the FRA, 2006.
HT first reported on June 30 that Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022 were notified which make way for constitution of a project screening committee in each state/UT for an initial review proposal involving diversion of forest land. The five-member committee will meet at least twice every month and will advise the state governments on projects in a time-bound manner, the rules said. The notification also said the onus of ensuring forest rights of forest dwellers are rehabilitated is with the state governments. So far, compliance with the Forest Rights Act was mandatory before the Centre granted stage II forest clearance to any project.
Arjun Munda, Union minister of tribal affairs also tweeted: “The task of granting compensation under the FRA 2006 rests with the states and MoTA regularly reviews the implementation of the Act with the States at the level of Chief Secretaries. Hence, the allegation that the present government is trying to snatch the rights from the tribals holds no ground and is just a futile attempt to divert the attention from the fact that NDA’s presidential candidate is a tribal lady.”
He was responding to a tweet by former Union environment minister and Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh who tweeted that the Centre’s decision will disempower crores of adivasis living in forest areas. He also shared a statement from the Congress which said: “Now, in a new set of rules issued very recently, the Modi government has allowed for forest rights to be settled after final approval for forest clearances has been granted by the central government. Obviously, this has been done in the name of ‘ease of doing business’ for a chosen few…once forest clearance is granted everything else becomes a mere formality and almost inevitably no claims will be recognised and settled.”
HT reported on July 2 that the rules have a provision where project developers can purchase land with plantations from private individuals to present them as compensatory afforestation against forest diversion for non-forest activities.