The Congress on April 1 claimed that the Narendra Modi government was weakening laws on the protection of forests and wildlife for the sake of ease of doing business.
Addressing a press conference, Congress general secretary (communication) Jairam Ramesh, who was the Environment and Forest minister in the Manmohan Singh government, referred to the proposed amendment to Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as an example of diluting legislation that had contributed to gains in protecting India’s wildlife and natural resources. He was speaking on the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger launched by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and also in commemoration of five decades of the Chipko movement.
“This government is deliberately weakening the laws and institutions working towards forest conservation and environment. We are against this liberalisation and the laws should be strictly enforced and institutions should be strengthened while dealing with today’s biggest challenge of changes in the environment,” Mr Ramesh said.
Mr. Ramesh said the Bill on the proposed amendment had been referred to a Joint Committee and not the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forest, that he heads, because the government simply wanted an endorsement of its proposal.
Earlier, the Congress leader had written to Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar to register his protest the decision to send the Bill to a Joint Committee and called the move a “devaluation and denigration” of Standing Committees.
Hitting back at Mr. Ramesh, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Bhupendra Yadav tweeted, “Jairam Ramesh says referring the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill to a Joint Committee is ‘devaluation and denigration’ of processes. Will serve him well to take a hard look at how many Bills introduced in Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha were sent by Cong govts to the Joint Committee.”
The Minister also shared details of how many times previous Congress governments had sent Bills to such Joint Committees.
“The Congress is involved in a nefarious project to create doubt in the minds of people regarding all democratic institutions and democratic processes. They are doing this in India and also on foreign soil. This is a dangerous trend and must stop,” Mr. Yadav added, in an apparent reference to former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s lecture last month at Cambridge University in the U.K. that stirred up a controversy.
Reacting to the Minister’s tweet, Mr. Ramesh said that the system of Parliamentary Standing Committees got instituted only in 1993 and, after that, referring Bills to Joint Committees have been exceptions and not the norm.
He said that a few months ago the Wildlife Protection Act was amended and, as a result, doors were being opened on the trade of elephants. “Trade of elephants was banned but the government has now given itself powers to decided under what circumstances there can be trade,” he claimed.
Talking about Project Tiger that was launched in Uttarakhand at Corbett National Park on April 1, 1973, Mr. Ramesh recalled that nine tiger reserves were selected across the country. “Today due to that project, our 53 tiger reserves comprise one-third of our thick forests across the country,” Mr. Ramesh said.
Mr. Ramesh said it was not just the Congress but also the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes that had, on September 26, 2022, written to the government to oppose the amendments as they were not in the interest of tribals living in forests and went against the Forest Rights Act passed in Parliament in 2006.