The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs says that there is no evidence that the process under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) delays projects, even as there is pressure from the Ministry of Environment to dilute the law and do away with the condition that gram sabhas should give consent for projects.
Hrushikesh Panda, Secretary, Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, assured members attending a national convention on community forest rights here recently that the FRA will not be diluted.
Dr. Panda, in a letter dated November 12, 2014 to his counterpart in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, said though the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal ministry of the FRA, the Ministry of Environment has been issuing advisories to States, relaxing certain provisions of the FRA.
Taking a legal stand, he said the FRA does not provide any scope to any executive agency for any kind of relaxation of the applicability of the Act. The responsibility is neither vested in the Environment Ministry nor in the Tribal Affairs Ministry, he added.
An impression is being created that the administration/implementation of the FRA is hindering or delaying clearance of the developmental projects, he said. If there has been any study or evidence on delay of the projects because of the processes of FRA, it should be brought to the notice of the Tribal Affairs Ministry.
The process of the FRA can be expeditious, he said. It takes less time than the procedures under the Forest Conservation Act and land acquisition. The Environment Ministry letter of October takes a short cut, which can derail projects completely, he added. A letter taking this up was given short shrift by the Environment Ministry.‘Wrong message’
Dr. Panda said the October 28 order was violative of the law of the land and a project, which takes a short cut, can be stopped by just one village, which has land classified as “forest”. The recent order had given a message that the government is against fair implementation of the FRA. This is not desirable in the interests of peace and governance in forest areas, he added, demanding its withdrawal.
The October 28, 2014 letter of the Environment Ministry said no forests were likely to be recognised under the provisions of the FRA, in case of plantations notified as forests for any period less than 75 years prior to December 13, 2005 and in villages in such areas which have no recorded populations of Scheduled Tribes, according to the 2001 and 2011 censuses, since a person residing in such a forest will not be eligible as other traditional forest dwellers or scheduled tribes according to the FRA.
In such plantations, a certificate of the District Collector certifying the land to be a plantation and having no population of Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers is sufficient.