The Mizoram government has rejected the Centre’s proposal to amend the “anti-indigenous people” Indian Forest Act, 1927, as its provisions are in conflict with the special provisions the State enjoys under Article 371G of the Constitution.
Forest rights activists and tribal welfare organisations are against this amendment bill that seeks to give higher management powers beyond what is provided in the Forest Rights Act of 2006, threatens to evict forest dwellers and promotes forest produce through private firms.
“The proposal to amend the Indian Forest Act was rejected after a consultative meeting of all stakeholders, including representatives of political parties, civil society organisations and officials,” Mizoram’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change T.J. Lalnuntluanga said on Friday.
He also holds the Law and Judicial Department portfolio in the Mizo National Front (MNF) government headed by Chief Minister Zoramthanga. The MNF is a member of the BJP-fronted North East Democratic Alliance.
Officials in his department said there was a consensus in Thursday’s meeting that the proposed amendment, if made a law, would directly encroach upon the provisions of Article 371G. “A reframed Indian Forest Act as per the proposals would challenge Mizo customary laws and practices, ownership and transfer of land as well as the powers conferred upon the autonomous district councils,” a senior officer said declining to be quoted.
The State’s Forest officials said that the Indian Forest Act of 1927 had not been enforced in Mizoram. The State’s areas under forest have been governed by the Mizoram Forest Act of 1955 “in accordance with the customary laws and needs of the local people”.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had on March 14 invited feedback on the proposed amendment from the States after consultation with stakeholders.
The Opposition Congress and regional political parties have been rallying against the proposals. An ethnicity-based organisation called Zo Indigenous Forum had submitted a memorandum to the United Nations saying the Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was anti-indigenous communities and against the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Mizoram is among the 15 States and Union Territories with more than 33% of the geographical area under forest cover. The State is among India’s “tribal districts” with a total forest cover of 421,000 sq km.