People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 12, 2014



Efforts to Sabotage FRA Protested


On January 8, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and former MP, Brinda Karat, addressed the following letter to Dr Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, on the reported proposal to amend the Forest (Conservation) Rules to facilitate illegal diversion of forest land.


I AM writing to you in regard to the violation of the Forest Rights Act and the blatant illegalities being committed by the Ministry of Environments and Forests by giving approval to projects without the concurrence of the Gram Sabhas or a recognition of the rights of adivasis in the concerned forest areas, as mandated by the FRA. To legalise these violations and further facilitate the takeover of forest land for projects including those for the private sector, the Environment Ministry is proposing amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Rules to circumvent the provisions of the FRA and give all powers to the bureaucracy as against the Gram Sabhas.


It is reported that the ministry has the full sanction of the PMO for these amendments as they are in line with the recommendations made earlier by the three member committee set up convened by the principal secretary in the PMO. The proposed amendments include:


1) Empower the collector to "complete the process of recognition of rights," which the collector cannot do under the Act, as this power lies with the Gram Sabha and the higher committees.


2) Allow the collector to certify whether rights recognition is complete, when the FRA requires that only the Gram Sabha can give such a certification --- as MoEF itself had recognised in its 2009 order.


3) Require that the process of recognition be completed within 30 to 60 days when the Forest Rights Rules require at least three months for the filing of claims alone. Having failed to implement this Act for the past six years, the government now seems to want to short circuit the entire process.


4) Give the Collectors implicit discretion to decide which Gram Sabhas' consent should be taken, when the fully informed consent of all affected Gram Sabhas is a requirement, as also held by the Supreme Court in Orissa Mining Corporation vs Union of India and Ors. The amendments also say nothing about what information should be given to Gram Sabhas.


In sum, these amendments will make it even easier to hand over forest land without complying with the Forest Rights Act for which it is not the MOEF but the Tribal Affairs Ministry which is the nodal ministry.


Already in case after case, the MOEF has been pushing approvals for projects leading to diversion of forest land without the consent of the Gram Sabhas. According to the ministry’s website, between January 2008 and August 2011, 1,82,389 hectares of forestland were diverted for projects with the ministry’s approval. The monthly average of forest land diversion has gone up by 42 percent in 2013 from an average of 2,216 hectares in 2012 to 3,143 hectares in the first four months of 2013. Of the projects approved, 42 percent are for mining, 22 percent for irrigation and 10.5 percent for roads. Significantly, there is no mention of the large numbers of adivasi families displaced from land and livelihood. 


You will kindly recall that in the Niyamgiri Vedanta project, it was only the Supreme Court intervention which ensured that Gram Sabhas were consulted even while the collector and other officials had falsely claimed that procedures had been followed. Similarly, in projects in Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the MoEF has been conniving with the blatant illegalities being committed bypassing the gram sabhas and the adivasis dependent on the forest for their livelihood.


Now, without addressing these blatant illegalities, the new amendments are being proposed.


I request you to intervene to ensure that the FRA is implemented and that no such rules are framed that will legalise the present effort to undermine and sabotage the FRA, leading to the elimination of the rights of adivasis and traditional forest dwellers who depend on the forests for their livelihood.