For deliberate non-implementation of forest right, panchayat Acts

The N.C. Saxena panel, which has asked the Centre not to clear Vedanta's bauxite mining project in Orissa, is scathing about the “collusion” of the State and district administrations, blaming them for deliberate non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) in the region.

These Acts insist that the consent of forest dwelling tribal communities and bodies such as gram sabhas must be obtained before any clearance is given to divert forest land for a project.

“The district administration's reluctance to comply with the legal mandates of the FRA was clearly evident; and the Orissa State Administration has not acted to correct this reluctance,” said a report submitted on Monday by the four-member panel led by Planning Commission member Mr. Saxena.

Overwhelming evidence

District Collectors of Kalahandi and Rayagada first claimed that there were no claims under the FRA in the area of the mining project, without attaching the requisite gram sabha certifications despite repeated requests.

When the overwhelming evidence of individual and community claims filed with the gram sabhas was pointed out, they shifted their stance, claiming that the FRA was not applicable as the original proposal was made before the enactment of the law.

The State government has also been non-cooperative in this regard, the report said.

In a damning statement, Rayagada District Collector told Dr. Saxena that “this particular approach was due to the position taken by the State government in favour of the granting of mining lease.” The report then adds a footnote: “Soon after making this statement, the Collector realised that he should not have said so. Therefore he said ‘I would like to withdraw my statement'.”

Training programme

While this makes erring officials liable for prosecution under the FRA, the panel strongly recommends that they be sent for a training programme instead.

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