NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Tribal Affairs is taking the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) head-on over the latter’s move to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
It says the move violates the law of the land and shows that the Centre is against fair implementation of the Forest Act. It goes on to add that such moves are not desirable in the interest of peace and governance in forest areas. Hrusikesh Panda, Secretary, Tribal Affairs, in a letter dated November 12 to Ashok Lavasa, Secretary, MoEF has categorically demanded the ministry to withdraw its circular dated October 28.
The circular gave power to the district Collector to decide whether there is any need to implement FRA in an area, while the law vests these powers with the gram sabha to initiate such a process.
The letter says that the basic legal point is that the FRA “does not provide any scope to any executive agency for any kind of relaxation of the applicability of the FRA” and MoEF has no authority to do so.
“Though the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal ministry of FRA, the environment ministry has been issuing advisories to the states relaxing certain provisions of FRA. Even if arguments raised in the above letter were factually correct, the correctness of the facts has to be decided by the process prescribed under FRA,” said the two-page letter, a copy of which is with Express.
The NDA government is holding discussions to amend the FRA to do away with the mandatory consent required from tribal gram sabhas before cutting down forests for industrial purposes. According to the tribal ministry, FRA is the law of the land and a move by MoEF violates this.
On the reasoning by MoEF that FRA delays projects, the secretary said there is no evidence to prove this and clearance on major projects takes a long time because of the layers through which such clearance is given.
“The FRA process is initiated in the village and culminates with the District Committee headed by the District Collector. If there has been any study or evidence on delay of projects because of the processes of FRA, this should be brought to the notice of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs,” it said.
FRA has been the bone of contention for industries that are seeking diversion of land for starting their infrastructure projects.