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Tree felling: Congress blasts Narendra Modi and team

Grand Old Party alleges BJP is favouring capitalists at the expense of interests of tribals
Row emerges at a time when BJP-led NDA has fielded a tribal Droupadi Murmu as Presidential candidate
Row emerges at a time when BJP-led NDA has fielded a tribal Droupadi Murmu as Presidential candidate
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Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 11.07.22, 01:17 AM

The Congress on Sunday accused the Narendra Modi government of seeking to help its crony capitalists by allowing felling in forests without dwellers’ consent, a move it said would dilute the Forest Rights Act and hurt tribal communities living in forest areas.

The controversy has broken out at a time the BJP-led government has fielded Droupadi Murmu as its presidential candidate as a mark of its commitment to tribal communities’ welfare.

“If anything demonstrates the Modi sarkar’s true intent on protecting and promoting the interests of Adivasis, it is this decision which will disempower crores of Advisis and others living in forest areas,” Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said.

“Obviously, this has been done in the name of ‘ease of doing business’ for a chosen few. But it will end the ‘ease of living’ for the vast many. This destroys the very purpose of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and its meaningful use while considering proposals for diversion of forest land.”

Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Modi-Mitr Sarkar at its crony best! For ‘ease of snatching’ forest land, BJP government has come up with new Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 diluting UPA’s Forest Rights Act, 2006. Congress stands strongly with our Adivasi brothers & sisters in their fight to protect Jal, Jungle and Zameen.”

Ramesh issued a statement saying: “The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (known as the Forest Rights Act) confers land and livelihood rights — both individual and community — (on) Adivasi, Dalit and other families living in forest areas.

“In August 2009, in order to ensure the fullest implementation of this law, the then ministry of environment and forests issued a circular that stipulated that no clearances for diversion of forest land under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, would even be considered unless rights provided under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, were first settled.

“As per this circular, the rights of tribal and other communities have to be settled before a decision can even be considered on forest and environmental clearance by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change. The circular mandated that free, prior and informed consent of the families affected be obtained for such an exercise to be lawful.”

But recently issued new rules for the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Congress said, allow questions of forest rights to be settled after the Centre has granted final approval for forest clearances, that is, the diversion of forest areas for non-forest purposes under the 1980 act.

“Once forest clearance is granted, everything else becomes a mere formality and almost inevitably no claims will be recognised and settled. The state governments will be under even greater pressure from the Centre to accelerate the process of diversion of forest land,” Ramesh said.

“The government has abdicated the responsibility given to the Centre by Parliament to ensure that the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, is implemented in a manner consistent with the Forest Rights Act, 2006,” he added.

Environment minister Bhupendra Yadav responded to the criticism by tweeting: “Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, are reformative with an objective to streamline the process of approvals under the Act, and enable the parallel processing under other Acts and Rules including FRA, 2006.

“The allegation is an ill-informed attempt to show that the rules don’t care about the provisions of other laws. The government under Narendra Modi remains committed to protecting the rights of the Adivasis.”

Ramesh promptly countered him, asking: “Mantri-ji, Please don’t evade the main issue — that is, are you not making the Gram Sabha irrelevant? You may not have been briefed properly. Your new Rules go against the 2015 note of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs of Modi Sarkar.”

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