forest rights act
To
Shri Bhupesh Baghel
Chief Minister
Chhattisgarh
Dear Shri Baghel,
I have come across a news report (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/forest-conservation-rules-disempower-tribals-congress-8021282/) on a Congress spokesperson alleging that the NDA government at the Centre had amended the rules framed under the Forest Conservation Act on June 28, 2022, that would effectively bypass the requirement under another Central legislation, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) which mandates prior consent from the local Gram Sabhas, and settlement of forest rights in respect of the tribals and the other traditional forest dwellers, before any forest land could be diverted for a non-forest purpose.
Certainly, it is inappropriate on the part of the Centre to abridge the provisions of either of these two important legislations, detrimental to the interests of the tribals and also detrimental to conservation of valuable forest resources. On the face of it, any amendment to the Forest Conservation Act and the rules framed under it, that indirectly violates the provisions of the FRA, would be illegal. I hope that the Union Ministry of Environment takes note of this and revokes the amendment in question forthwith.
However, what distresses me most is that the States like Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Congress party itself, seem to be violating on a large scale, the provisions of both the Forest Conservation Act and the FRA, and even the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) in so far as the Scheduled Areas are concerned, despite opposition by the local people, especially the tribal communities. 
 
In this connection, I refer to my earlier letter dated 28-6-2022 addressed to both the Centre and the Chhattisgarh governments on iron ore mining in Dantewada district (https://countercurrents.org/2022/06/iron-ore-mining-in-dantewada-should-conform-to-pesa-fra/) in which I had cited several specific instances of such statutory violations.
 
There have been numerous such instances of violation of both the PESA and the FRA in Chhattisgarh in the recent times, as for example,in the case of coal mining in Hasdeo Aranya area, where the local tribal communities have been agitating for months against the coal mining activity by a private compa (https://thewire.in/uncategorised/hasdeo-aranya-mining-clearance-centre-trampling-on-tribal-rights-say-activists). Similarly, the local tribals have been agitating against a project taken up by the Jindal group in Mahasamund district, demanding that the mandated provisions of the FRA be enforced and their forest rights safeguarded. 
It is a matter of anguish that the Chhattisgarh government should remain passive, perhaps not as sensitive to the sentiments of the tribals as one would expect.
May I appeal to the Chhattisgarh government to respect the spirit underlying the Congress party’s statement on the need to safeguard the rights of the tribals under the FRA, proactively intervene in all cases of PESA and FRA violations and do justice to the tribals?
 
Regards,
 
Yours sincerely,
 
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India &
Former Commissioner (Tribal Welfare), erstwhile undivided AP government)


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