Nation Sethi=NEW DELHI: The tribal affairs ministry is moving fast to amend the Forest Rights Act and bring about changes in rules that would make it easier for traditional forest dwellers to get their rightful claim over forest lands and more difficult for the industry to use the green patches without the former’s nod.
The move comes with the central government recording serious flaws in the implementation of the Act across the country. As a precursor to the expected changes, tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo has written to CMs pointing out how the implementation of what was UPA-1’s flagship scheme had failed, asking them to remove the shortcomings.
The step had been pending for long, with the NAC too recommending altering the rules and regulations to overcome state prejudices against handing back lands to tribals and other traditional forest dwellers.
After Deo took over the tribal affairs ministry, it was expected that the changes would come through quickly but the minister, who had earlier been the key Congress general secretary advocating the passage of the Act, faced an uphill battle against his bureaucracy, which had also opposed the NAC recommendations. A shuffle of the top bureaucracy within the ministry saw the opposition against changes in the FRA dwindle and Deo has now agreed to work the NAC recommendations into the law. The changes in implementation are expected to come at three levels. The ministry is expected to use its powers under the Act to pass mandatory advisories, amend existing rules as well as go to Parliament for amendments where required.
Deo’s letter to CMs is the first indication of what is in the works. He has said that states have not adhered to rules and tribals still face harassment, threats of eviction and forced relocation in violation of the Act. He has asked for strict adherence to the rule that denies industry the right to forest patches unless affected village councils accept it through a resolution.
“Gram sabha meetings… for critical decisions such as diversion of forest land, should be video taped and videos made publicly available. This will ensure transparency and reduce manipulation and dispute,” Deo wrote.