NEW DELHI: The Centre’s recent move to refer the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill, 2023 to a Select Committee of Parliament instead of the Standing Committee has led to a row. The Bill, which was introduced by Forest & Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav on March 29 in the Lok Sabha, was sent to a Select Committee, which has sparked strong protests from Congress MPs who pointed out that the government bypassed rules as the Bill should have been sent to the Standing committee on science, technology, environment and forest, headed by Congress MP and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
A war of words broke out between Yadav and Ramesh as the former argued that Congress governments had also sent Bills to Select Committees since the 1950s. “It’s a laughable argument as Standing Committees came into existence only on March 31, 1993,” said Ramesh while addressing the media on the occasion of 50th anniversary of ‘Project Tiger’ on Saturday.
“The Bill to amend the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was not referred to the Standing Committee as I am the chairman,” he said. Ramesh had earlier written to Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankar seeking his intervention in the matter, saying the Bill falls ‘fairly and squarely’ in the domain of the Standing Committee.
Several activists and civil rights groups have raised concerns over the proposed amendments to the Forest Bill, saying it will dilute provisions of forest rights. Ramesh said that the government-appointed chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes too had flagged the issue last year.
“Most of the times, rights of the tribals are being ignored, like in the case of Adani Power Project in Godda, Jharkhand, against which tribals are protesting as their rights were not fulfilled as per the law,” said Ramesh. As per the Forest Rights Act, the rights of the tribals living in forest areas have to be fulfilled first before starting a project in such places, he pointed out.