Forest Advisory Committee gets earnest about implementing forest diversion rules, finally

Clarifies that forest diversions will be allowed only if forest rights of affected people are settled and their consent obtained

It is more almost three years since the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) ordered that no proposal for forest diversion would be cleared unless the affected gram sabhas (village councils) give their consent and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) is implemented in the affected region. But it is only now that the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the ministry has decided to stick to the order in “letter and spirit”. The committee makes recommendations to the ministry on projects that require forest diversion.

FRA, which came into force in January 2006, mandates that forest dwellers cannot be shifted from forestland unless their rights over the forest resources are settled under the Act. But many state governments kept sending the proposals for forest diversion to the ministry with the assurance that the rights under FRA would be settled at later stages.

In July 2009, the ministry issued a circular to the state governments saying that forest diversion proposals would be cleared only if the states provide evidence of FRA implementation along with the letters from the affected gram sabhas, certifying the same and giving consent for the diversion.

Rules so far observed in violations

However, the orders were rarely complied with; many projects were cleared by the ministry allegedly in violation of FRA. According to an estimate by Campaign For Survival and Dignity, a non-profit that works for tribal rights, between November 2011 and January 2012, FAC recommended diversion of more than 4,166 hectares of forestland for 20 mining, dam and other large projects in direct violation of the FRA. “The committee has even recommended diversion when it was told that forest dwellers have titles to the land,” said a statement released by the organisation.

In case of the high-profile Posco Steel Project in Odisha, the ministry gave the final approval to divert 1,253 hectares (ha) of forestland in May last year despite two affected gram sabhas refusing to part with their land and MoEF’s own committee finding violations of FRA. The two grama sabhas had informed the ministry in writing that FRA was not implemented in their villages. The then environment minister Jairam Ramesh while clearing the project said the implementation of FRA and the July 2009 circular of MoEF were “learning and evolving” process.

Now, in its meeting held on April 2, The FAC has clarified that no project proposal would be considered complete unless the documentary evidence of implementation of FRA and the consent of gram sabha are submitted. “These documents are to be given in full and complete format at Stage I of the process of consideration and clearance and need to be in accordance with the said circular of MoEF in all respects.” “The gram sabha resolutions complete in every respect are required for those who depend on or are resident of forest area.

FAC members were unanimous that the circular dated August 3, 2009 leaves no space for ambiguity,” said the FAC minutes.

 

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