The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pre-poll wish list from BJP states
- Move to fulfil land promise to tribals

New Delhi, Jan. 21: Chief ministers of BJP-ruled states presented a wish list to the Prime Minister today, hoping that in this pre-poll season of government generosity, they would not be denied.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu later ranked the priorities, putting at the top of the list regularising illegal holdings of forest land by tribals and relaxation of the limit beyond which construction cannot be taken up on beaches.

The Coastal Regulatory Zone Act stipulates that a 500-metre distance has to be maintained between the coastline and a concrete structure like a hotel or a holiday resort.

Uma Bharti and Raman Singh, the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, apparently suggested legalising forest land which tribals have been using for cultivation.

One of the promises made by the BJP in the recently-held Assembly elections in the two states was to confer ownership rights on tribals. It won over a large section of the tribal vote from the Congress in both states.

BJP sources said with Parliament to be dissolved by early February and the enactment of or amendment to legislation a “remote” possibility in the short session that starts on January 29, the government could bring an ordinance to fulfil at least this demand.

Forest land is protected against cutting or cultivation or grazing or even as a source of firewood. However, over the years the law has not been enforced scrupulously. Apart from pillage by contractors, forest land has been cleared and used for cultivation by tribals.

There was a long tussle between Madhya Pradesh, then led by Congress chief minister Digvijay Singh, and the Centre over the state’s demand for legalising the holdings, with each accusing the other of inaction.

With the BJP now ruling in Madhya Pradesh, the scope for disagreement does not exist, particularly given the move’s vote-catching potential.

The suggestion to amend the coastal law, however, does not seem to arise from similar considerations.

Former environment minister T.R. Baalu, of the DMK, had amended the law to raise the ceiling from 100 to 500 metres.

Baalu had said the law was meant to protect the coastal zone from pollution. But sources also point out that the DMK’s arch-rival, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, was planning a new secretariat on the coastline and that Baalu thwarted the move.

Whatever the backdrop to that decision, environment ministry sources said a relaxation would be a retrograde step, leading to renewed defilement of beaches.

“We have spent 20 years to develop regulations on environment. And the government now wants to bring in a regime without regulations,” said Sunita Narayan, who heads the non-governmental Centre for Science and Environment.

The environment ministry, after the departure of Baalu, is headed by Ramesh Bais, who belongs to the BJP.

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