NEW DELHI: In a letter to Union MInister for Tribal Affairs, Jual Oram, senior Congress Party leader Ahmed Patel has criticised the Centre for allowing the Government of Maharashtra to exercise absolute control over forest management and the sale of forest produce.
Referring to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, Patel described this development as illegal and a total dilution of a law passed by Parliament in 2006.
He said the Act clearly mentions that tribal communities (Adivasis) living on the margins of the nation's forested areas, are its true custodians.
"The legislation was intended to provide legally enforceable commercial rights to our Adivasi people, who have withstood a long history of replete with exploitation and discrimination.The irony is that the tribal villages of Maharashtra were the first to benefit due to the enactment of the Forest Rights Act. The legislation struck down an age-old nexus between the forest department and private contractors and allowed the villagers to directly benefit from the sale of forest trade and produce," said Patel in his letter to Oram.
The Congress leader said that the apparent reversal of the Forest Rights Act viz-a-vis the Government of Maharashtra is most unfortunate, at least in terms of interpretation of the triabl ministry's order, as it puts the lives and livelihood of Adivasis and their future at risk.
He warned that officials and private businessmen in Maharashtra could exploit this new order for their benefit. He said that the state government has hired a private firm to monitor forest trade and produce and he was afraid that other states may follow suit, thereby jeopardising the future of communities that come under the Scheduled Tribes list.
Patel further stated that the dilution of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs raises questions about the sanctity of a legislation as also of Parliament's authority to pass it.
He also highlighted the fact that the Supreme Court of India has passed several verdicts and orders with regard to protecting the rights of India's tribal communities as also orders that prevent government agencies from having the authority to make amendments in the Act.
He reminded the Centre and Minister Oram of their duty and responsibility to protect the rights of Adivasis and to ensure their full and complete empowerment, as they were the most vulnerable of Indian citizens.