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

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.

  • Amendment follows PM’s Friday meeting with Tribal Affairs and Environment Ministers

  • Environment Ministry is not a bottleneck for economic development: Jayanthi Natarajan