NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change should not have circulated the zero draft proposing amendments for the Indian Forest Act, 1927 to the forest departments of states and union territories as it is 'controversial', the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has observed during a recent meeting.
One of the proposed amendments gave forest officials the power to use firearms to prevent ‘forest offence’. This comes in the context of a hearing of Rahul Gandhi’s remark before the elections in which he had said the Narendra Modi government had made a new law in which tribals can be ‘shot at’.
The Commission had sent a notice to Gandhi over this. His counsel had earlier responded to the NCST that it was in the free flow of a speech and having summarised the amendment proposed to the Indian Forest Act.
“The Commission observed that the ministry should have seen that prima facie the zero draft should not have contained anything controversial and should not have been circulated to the states. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change told the Commission that it was only a zero draft and not an approved-one and was sent to states to seek comments. However, the Commission has observed it should not have been circulated and Rahul Gandhi’s comments were based on the basis of the zero draft,” said a senior NCST official.
The Commission has termed the zero draft as ‘regressive’ and that it makes tribals more vulnerable.
“The zero draft even though is only for discussion defies the spirit of the progressive Forest Rights Act, 2006. We have directed the ministry to put this process on hold. We have also sought a list of states which may have started the process of implementing the provisions. Following the list, we will take it up with the states,” said another NCST official.
“Any forest officer, may if necessary, to prevent the commission of any offence under this Act or under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, or to apprehend any person engaged in the commission of an offence under the said Acts, or who has committed such offence, use as little force including firearms and do as little injury to person and property, as may be consistent with the prevention of the offence or the apprehension of the accused…,” according to the proposed amendment to Section 66 (2) of the Act.