MAC: Mines and Communities

India: Environment, Tribal Ministries to stand by forest rights

Published by MAC on 2013-01-28
Source: The Hindu, statement (2013-01-25)

Environment, Tribal Ministries to stand by forest rights while meeting PM

Priscilla Jebaraj

The Hindu

25 January 2013

NEW DELHI - Will not dilute gram sabha consent requirements, says MoEF

In a joint strategy for their meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next week, Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan and Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo both reportedly plan to oppose any dilution of tribal rights in forest areas. This, despite the fact that their respective secretaries have signed on to a deal with the Prime Minister's Office last month agreeing to such a dilution.

Highly placed sources at the Environment Ministry say that Ms. Natarajan has spoken to her counterpart at the Tribal Affairs to communicate her determination to stand firm by an August 2009 circular which requires local gram sabhas to certify that the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers have been settled under the Forest Resources Assessment process and to consent to the diversion of forest land for a project.

Mr. Deo has already made public his stance that the current norms should not be diluted, as it would violate the Forest Rights Act, a politically important legislation for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

Late last year, complaints from infrastructure ministries and industry lobbies that delays in green clearances were obstacles to investment and growth had pushed the PMO to look into the issue, and a committee headed by the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Pulok Chatterjee, and including the Secretaries of the Tribal and Environment Ministries, was formed.

The committee recommended that a State government's certification that the FRA was being implemented was sufficient, and gram sabha consent was not needed unless a project "substantially or significantly affected the quality of life of the people residing in the site of diversion."

Tribal and forest rights activists were up in arms at this suggestion, pointing out that the gram sabha's involvement is at the heart of the FRA and that in several high-profile and controversial cases such as the Vedanta, Posco and Polavaram projects, the State government's certification had been found to be false and against the gram sabha's wishes.

While Mr. Chatterjee wrote to both Ministries indicating that the committee's recommendations should be implemented by the end of 2012, both Ministers have ignored that deadline, claiming that their secretaries acted without their consent. Now, at their own meeting with the Prime Minister himself, they intend to explain their stance.

‘Amend the law'

Environment Ministry sources say that Ms. Natarajan will point out that the PMO recommendations would effectively overturn key provisions of the FRA. If the government wishes, it should amend that law, rather than pressuring the green ministry to break the law, they said.

The sources also pointed out that the complaint of environment and forest clearance delays is a red herring, camouflaging the many other factors that actually stymie projects. Ministry records show that delays only occur when complete documentation is not received from the project proponents, they say, adding that the need to get gram sabha consent is rarely a reason for project delays.


Joint protest letter sent to the Prime Minister against moves to by pass the Forest Rights Act in granting forest clearances

To: Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
New Delhi 110001

Sub: Condemn moves to bypass Forest Rights Act when taking forest land for large projects

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh-ji,

For the last five years, notwithstanding vociferous protests from people's organisations and political parties, the Government of India has been engaged in massive and grossly illegal grabbing of forest land. This has happened despite the passage of the Forest Rights Act in 2006, which recognised people's rights over forest resources and their legal power to protect and manage them. It is continuing despite adverse comments by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, protests and mobilisations from across the country, and rhetoric from your government about its commitment to adivasi rights. Even the Minister of Tribal Affairs in your own government, Shri Kishore Chandra Deo, has twice written letters to highlight this illegality. None of this has deterred the Environment Ministry from continuing on its illegal rampage.

The law requires that no land can be taken for a project without a certificate from the affected gram sabhas that their rights have been recognised under the Forest Rights Act, and that the concerned gram sabhas consent to the diversion. As the Minister of Tribal Affairs put it, this is being "honoured in the breach" and the concerned statutory bodies are "misleading project proponents and the public", thereby "produc[ing] conflict, harassment, injustice, delays and litigation."

You head a government that has already faced massive public anger for its callous and corrupt favouring of private interests. One would, therefore, have at the least expected you to halt this massive scam - which rivals the coal and 2G scams in proportion - and take steps to prosecute those responsible.

Instead, we are now shocked to hear from media reports that your office, and in particular a committee headed by your Principal Secretary Pulok Chatterjee, has been engaged in a push to bypass the Forest Rights Act for most projects. On the specious excuse of delays in project clearances - which have been shown by none other than your own Environment Minister to be the result primarily of faulty documentation, fraudulent proposals and attempts at engaging in speculation - the rights of the some of the most oppressed of our fellow citizens are to be thrown to the winds. The committee's recommendations directly violate the FRA and, in Scheduled Areas, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (as well as by implication the Fifth Schedule itself). Delay is no ground for bypassing laws. The alacrity with which your government seeks to serve the interests of land and resource grabbers, while dilly dallying and dragging its feet on protecting tribal rights, exposes the real character of the UPA government's administration.

We condemn this transparently corrupt, illegal and repressive move. We therefore call upon you to:

Com. Bajuban Riyan, Chairperson, Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch and Member of Parliament, Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Com. Prakash Jha, Executive Committee member, Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha (assisted and guided by the CPI)

Com. Rajaram Singh, General Secretary, All India Kisan Mahasabha

Convening Collective, Campaign for Survival and Dignity


Jurists write to PM on claim of forest land

Press Trust of India 

28 January 2013

A group of eminent jurists has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opposing the government's reported move to claim forest land for various projects without consulting or taking the consent of gram sabhas.

They said suh a step "would be a violation of the Forest Rights Act and amount to violating its central provisions".

The letter has been signed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Justice A P Shah, retired Bombay High Court judges Hospet Suresh and Kolse Patil, former Calcutta High Court judge D K Basu, Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover and former UN official Miloon Kothari.

They noted that the Forest Rights Act and the Forest (Conservation) Act apply to different but overlapping areas of law - the former is concerned with forest rights and the latter with diversion of forest land.

"There is a common misconception that the lack of explicit reference to diversion of forest land for large projects in the FRA means that this Act can be ignored when diverting land for such purposes. This is incorrect," they said.

"No statute covers every subject matter that is related to it. Rather, when two laws cover related areas, it is necessary to harmoniously construct them in order to ensure that the objectives of both are achieved," they said adding that the law must be read in such a fashion as to enhance the welfare of the concerned groups of people, and not to damage them.

"...Obtaining a certificate from the gram sabha regarding the completion of rights recognition and consent to diversion is the minimum that is required for the Forest Rights Act to be respected during the process of diversion of forest land," the letter said and warned that any move to dilute or undermine this would be in violation of law.


 

Clearance for linear projects will not need gram sabha consent

Priscilla Jebaraj

The Hindu

6 February 2013

Activists lament dilution of tribal rights as Environment Ministry amends 2009 circular

New Delhi - Gram sabhas in forest areas have been stripped of their power to approve or reject proposals for the diversion of their forest lands for building roads, transmission lines, canals or other linear projects.

In a move that activists have slammed as being a dilution of the rights of tribal people and other forest dwellers, the Environment Ministry on Tuesday amended its critical August 2009 circular dealing with the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.

"Projects like construction of roads, canals, laying of pipelines/optical fibres and transmission lines etc., [which involve] linear diversion of forest land in several villages - unless recognised rights of PTG/PAC are being affected - are exempted from the requirement of obtaining consent of the concerned gram sabha(s) as stipulated [in the 2009 circular]," said Assistant Inspector General of Forests H.C. Chaudhary in a fresh circular.

This amendment follows the agreement reached at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo and Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Friday. Both Ministers had earlier vowed to stand against any dilution of tribal rights; however, both Ministers agreed to amend the circular.

Mr. Chaudhary's letter clearly suggests that the amendment was a result of Mr. Deo's change in stance. It cites a letter from the Tribal Affairs Minister to Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on January 21 - when Mr. Deo's public stance was still against any dilution of the 2009 circular - stating that the need for gram sabha consent could be relaxed for linear projects. Ministry sources say Ms. Natarajan would not take the flak for the amendment.

Speaking to reporters, however, Ms. Natarajan emphasised that her Ministry was not a "bottleneck" for economic development. She pointed to her record of clearances - including forest clearances for 754 of the 828 proposals in the last one and a half years - as proof that she was not acting as a roadblock to industry.

The Minister pointed to recent orders allowing parallel processing for different clearances, a speedier procedure for expansion of existing projects and a decision to allow linear projects to begin work with an environment clearance provided they had a Plan B in case forest clearance was not granted.

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