ST Commission holds its

ground on impact of new rules on Forest Rights Act

In a sign of escalating conflict between the government and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) over the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, panel Chairperson Harsh Chouhan on Monday said its position on the new rules being violative of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 “will be the same” even as the Environment Ministry has dismissed these concerns.

Mr. Chouhan told The Hindu, “The commission’s stand will be the same. It is the commission’s duty to intervene and recommend corrective measures whenever any rules run the risk of violating rights of tribespeople. This we will continue to do.”

This comes after Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav wrote to the panel dismissing the concerns flagged by Mr. Chouhan, saying they were “not legally tenable”.

Panel’s concerns

Flagging concerns about the provision in the new rules that proposes to do away with the consent clause for diversion of forest land for other purposes, the panel had recommended that these rules should be put on hold, in a letter to the Environment Ministry last September.

In response, Mr. Yadav has insisted that the rules were framed under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and that the NCST’s apprehension of these rules being in violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 “is not legally tenable”.

The panel had pointed out that the FCR, 2022 had done away with the clause to mandatorily seek consent of the gram sabhas before the Stage 1 clearance or even after Stage 2 clearance. In such a scenario, project proponents, having received partial clearance, will be pushing the State governments and Union Territory administrations for “diversion at the earliest”, which would be “seriously impacting the process of recognition of rights under the FRA”.

The commission pointed out that between 2009 and 2018, of the 128 applications for forest diversion for mining, 74 were cleared at the Stage 2 and 46 at the Stage 1 and none of the rejections were based on FRA non-compliance. It added that in a subset of 14 cases (all post 2014), certificates showing completion of FRA process were issued “in violation of ground realities”. The commission said the new rules will only increase such violations.

The Minister did not respond to requests for a comment on Mr. Chouhan’s remarks.