HOW WILL THE NEW RULES AFFECT TRIBAL RIGHTS?
Done away with FRA compliance:
- The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act, 2006, confers land and livelihood rights both individual and community to tribal, Dalit and other families living in forest areas. Under the law, FRA compliance is mandatory before clearance is accorded for diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes
- The Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, delinks mandatory FRA compliance for seeking forest clearance for infrastructure projects and puts onus on states/UTs to ensure that it is complied with before the forest land is handed over to the project proponent
Impacts fifth schedule:
- The local representationof theAdivasis and OTFDs has been completely ignored in the Advisory Committee (Section 3) and Regional Empowered Committee (Section 6).
- Under the new rules, these committees act as a connecting link between the state and Union government in the decision-making process.
- The non-representation of the Adivasis and OTFDs effectively captures the inclusive aspects of the decision-making process.
- The formation of these committees stands in contradiction to the provisions of Fifth Scheduleof the Constitution wherein the Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) is the consultative forum, as referred by the Governor of the state, in the matters of tribal administration and development.
Negation of gram sabha role:
- In the new rules, prior approval of the gram sabha is not mentioned signifying the nullification of its role. The term “survey” mentioned in the Section 2 of the new rulesfails to take into account the gram sabha or panchayat consent in the approval of the project.
- This not only negates the provisions of the FRA, but also the Supreme Court’s historic judgements of Samatha vs State Of Andhra Pradesh and Ors (1997) and Orissa Mining Corporation v Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others (2013).
- In both these cases, the top court has upheld the consent of the gram sabhaas the supremeauthority to decide whether to allow bauxite mining by Vedanta.
Other impacts on tribal rights:
- The new rules allow the Union government to permit the clearing of a forest for a project before prior consent of the forest dwellers, as mandated under the 2006 Act.
- The Advisory Committee, Regional Empowered Committee and the Project Screening Committees, as envisaged in the newly notified rules, violate the PESA provisions by giving primacy to these committees in place of local communities and gram sabha.
- There is no representation from the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Social Justice in these committees.
- Another big omission in the new rules is the neglect of the “community ownership” of natural resources including the forest.