Gadkari, Tribal Ministry at loggerheads over ‘dilution’ of Forest Act

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:49 pm IST

Published - September 11, 2014 12:01 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Nitin Gadkari

Nitin Gadkari

Union Minister for Rural Development Nitin Gadkari may have little to do with the tribal affairs department. Yet, within six days of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs keeping in abeyance the new village forest rules issued by the Maharashtra forest department, Mr. Gadkari sent a letter to Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram on August 19 demanding that the Ministry review its objections.

The Tribal Affairs ministry had stayed the new rules since objections were raised that it contravenes the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in many ways and gives more powers to the forest department, something the FRA had sought to redress. The MoEF too issued a memorandum, with the approval of the Minister, asking the Tribal Affairs Ministry to withdraw its order to stay the rules.

Mr. Gadkari wrote that village forest rules issued by the Maharashtra government in March gives rights to committees formed by the gram panchayat and gram sabhas. Because of this gram panchayats are being strengthened in forest areas. People of Gadchiroli and MLAs have welcomed the move, he said.

However, some NGOs represented by non-tribal people have objected to the new rules, Mr. Gadkari said, adding that it was not appropriate to give a one-sided stay to the rules.

Letters were also sent by Anandrao Gedam, MLA from Armori in Gadchiroli district; Popatrao Pawar, sarpanch of the village of Hivre Bazar.

On August 13, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs in a letter to the Maharashtra Chief Minister, said his government had notified the Indian Forests (Maharashtra) Regulation of assignment, management and cancellation of village forests rules, 2014, and prima facie it was in violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and rules. The Tribal Affairs ministry decide to keep these rules in abeyance till it examined it legally and came to a conclusion.

The Campaign for Survival and Dignity points out that Maharashtra is the only State where community forest rights under the FRA have been recognised (in Gadchiroli district). This has led to villages earning crores of rupees from the sale of bamboo which is being administered by gram sabhas.

The forest department unhappy with this has issued new village forest rules for “village forests” which have to be managed as per the Forest Department's working plan, failing which they will be taken away.

The new rules say that if there is any “encroachment”, fire, death of more than 40 per cent of trees in plantations the forest will be taken back. Bamboo can only be harvested as per the Forest department’s plan, forest officials will be the secretaries of the management committees i.e. they will control all proceedings. This is the same as Joint Forest Management and demolishes any notion of community control, the Campaign said.

Meanwhile the rules under the FRA require that every village with forest dwellers in it should have their rights over community forests recognised - which naturally the forest department does not want. So the new rules will not apply to villages where FRA rights have been recognised but that the gram sabha "can adopt these rules" if they wished to. A pre-formatted resolution was circulated to all panchayats to "adopt" these Rules and it was supposed to be passed in the mandatory August 15 gram sabha.

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