Brinda letter to PM expresses doubts over rights of forest dwellers

The plan of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to amend the Forest Conservation Rules came in for strong opposition on Wednesday from the CPM, which said the ministry was trying to "circumvent the provisions of the Forest Rights Act and give all powers to the bureaucracy as against the gram sabhas" with regard to settlement of rights involved in projects that require diversion of forest land.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, senior CPM leader Brinda Karat accused the MoEF of "violating the Forest Rights Act and committing blatant illegalities 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," she wrote.

She said the reported proposals like empower the Collector to "complete the process of recognition of rights", allowing the Collector to certify whether rights recognition is complete and giving the Collectors "implicit discretion" to decide which gram sabha's consent should be taken are all violation of the Forest Rights Act. Many of these powers, she said, lie with the 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," she said.

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