Lok Sabha- Report of Joint Committee on Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023- National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)’s views not elicited

To

Smt. Droupadi Murmu

The President of India

Respected Rashtrapati Ji,

I write this in continuation of my earlier letter dated 5-7-2023 addressed to your office (https://countercurrents.org/2023/07/take-the-ncst-into-confidence-prior-to-implementing-policies-and-projects-in-tribal-areas/on the need for the executive to hold prior consultation with the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST) as required under Article 338A(9) of the Constitution before initiating any legislative action/ policy changes, that affect the interests of the Adivasis.

I find that the Joint Committee of the Parliament has since considered the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 and finalised their report to be placed before the Parliament, without having the benefit of having the considered views of the NCST (https://prsindia.org/files/bills_acts/bills_parliament/2023/
Joint_Committee_Report_on_the_Forest_(Conservation)_Amendment_Bill_2023.pdf
)
 The amendments proposed in respect of the Forest (Conservation) Act, as finalised by the Joint Committee, are such that they will have far-reaching adverse implications for the Adivasis, considering the fact that the Adivasis largely rely on forests and forest resources for their living and their lives are closely intertwined with the forests.

Article 338(9) of the Constitution stipulates the following requirement:

The Union and every State Government shall consult the Commission on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Tribes

From the information available in the public domain, the Chairman of the NCST had in fact addressed the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests conveying the Commission’s objections to the Bill and sought its revocation vide  F.No. NCST-04/0mon/4/22-RMDC dated 26-9-2022. I am not sure whether the representatives of the Ministry apprised the Parliamentary Joint Committee of the Commission’s position on the Bill and the Ministry’s reply to the NCST.

In any case, it would not be in order for the Union government to violate the requirement of Article 338A(9) as referred above nor would it be appropriate for the concerned Ministries to fail to place NCST’s views before the Joint Committee.

I would respectfully appeal to your office to ensure that the views expressed by the erstwhile Chairman of the NCST vide F.No. NCST-04/0mon/4/22-RMDC dated 26-9-2022 are available to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha before the Bill as finalised by the Joint Committee is approved for submission under Article 111 for President’s assent.

Respectfully,

E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to the Government of India

&

Former Commissioner (Tribal Welfare), erstwhile Government of AP

Visakhapatnam

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