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Forest Conservation Rules infringe upon land rights of tribespeople: ST panel chief

  • Published
    21st Oct, 2022
Context

The Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes stressed its role to ‘caution government’ when its policies have the potential to affect the well-being and rights of tribal people.

Background
  • The statement was in relation to the recommendation National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) to the union government's new Forest Conservation Rules, 2022, on hold.
  • The rules were to essentially eliminate the requirement of consent of local tribespeople and forest dwellers for the diversion of forest land for other purposes.
  • It would amount to infringing upon the land rights of tribespeople under the Forest Rights Act.

Six-member working group of NCST:

  • NCST formed a six-member working group to look into whether the rules issued violated any provisions in the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
  • Later, based on the conclusion of this working group and dialogue with stakeholders, the commission decided to recommend that the new rules be put on hold.

Forest Conservation Rules:

  • The Forest Conservation Rules deal with the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980.
  • They prescribe the procedure to be followed for forest land to be diverted for non-forestry uses such as road construction, highway development, railway lines, and mining.

Other Related Committees:

  • The Lokur Committee (1965) was set up to look into criteria for defining Schedule Tribes. The Committee recommended 5 criteria for identification, namely, primitive traits, distinct culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness.
  • Bhuria Commission (2002-2004) focused on a wide range of issues from the 5th Schedule to tribal land and forests, health and education, the working of Panchayats, and the status of tribal women.
  • A High-Level Committee (HLC) in 2013, under the chairmanship of Prof. Virginius Xaxa, was constituted to study the 5 critical issues related to tribal communities: (1) livelihood and employment, (2) education, (3) health, (4) involuntary displacement and migration, (5) and legal and constitutional matters.

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST):

  • NCST was set up with effect from 19th February 2004 by amending Article 338 and by inserting a new article 338A in the Constitution through the 89th Constitution Amendment Act, 2003. Hence, it is a constitutional body.
  • Article 338A inter-alia gives powers to the NCST to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to STs under the Constitution or under any other law for time being in force or under any other order to the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards.

Why tribals are crucial for sustainable forest management?

  • Stewardship by forest-dwelling communities considerably slows the rate of forest degradation.
  • The low-carbon-footprint lifestyle of the tribal people has conserved the global environment for millennia and their wisdom and sustainable methods should be recognized, adopted, and promoted to effectively mitigate climate change. 
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