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Environment Ministry Moving To Facilitate More Illegal Land Grabbing

By Campaign for Survival and Dignity

30 December, 2013

About two weeks ago, a document was leaked out of the Environment Ministry and later discovered on some State government websites: a draft of proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Rules. The new amendments would further institutionalise the corrupt process by which the Environment MInistry has already been illegally handing over forest land to projects - this at a time when the government is making all kinds of noises about ending corruption.

Among other problems, the proposed amendments would do the following:

>> Ask the District Collector to "complete" the process of recognising people's rights (that too within sixty to ninety days) under the Forest Rights Act before taking over any forest land. The Collector has no power to do this under the law as only the gram sabha can initiate the process, and only it can decide when the process is complete - as even MoEF had recognised this in its order of July 2009. In short, the MoEF is planning to ask Collectors to lie, and then will base its decisions on those lies. Such illegal certificates from Collectors have already been found to be false in the Vedanta, POSCO and other cases.

>> The Supreme Court ruled in April 2013 that a proposal for forest diversion has to be placed before the gram sabha (village assembly) for its "active consideration and decision" before any land can be given to a project (in the context of the Vedanta case). The proposed amendments just say that resolutions should be taken "wherever required" (effectively leaving the choice to the Collector, when he/she has, again, no power in the matter). They say nothing about what information should be given to the gram sabha, the minimum 50% quorum required by law, or about what will happen if the gram sabha rejects the project. The draft Rules are even against the terms of the Ministry's own 2009 order - which the Ministry is, of course, flouting with impunity.

>> The proposal says nothing about making the process more transparent or accountable. Instead, every step is subject to extremely short time lines - for instance, the Forest Advisory Committee has to decide on a proposal within thirty days, when it meets only once in thirty days. In other words, every proposal has to be decided within a single meeting, and there is no scope for hearing anyone against the project or for keeping the matter for consideration. As a result, no one will be able to question the false certificates that will, by definition, be received from Collectors and forest officials.

The people who pay the price for this loot are those who lose their homes, forests and lands for nothing. Sections of the business community and much of the media repeatedly claim that the Environment Ministry is responsible for "delays" in the clearance process. The question is: if you repeatedly insist on engaging in daylight robbery, why are you astonished that people resist and "delay" your projects, or that courts (in the rare case) intervene? Why do you frame rules that institutionalise corruption and illegality and then claim to be trying to be "efficient"?

There is nothing in these Rules or in any other proposal by the Environment Ministry that would actually address the problems plaguing forest clearances - the favours being showered on particular corporate groups; the brazen illegalities being indulged in; and the enormous injustice being repeatedly done to forest dwellers. With the recent change of guard at the Ministry, we expect there will be a concerted effort to get these Rules passed shortly.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

Ph: 9873657855, [email protected]


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