Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday said the Centre’s delay in making draft rules for the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 posed a “serious threat” to the rights and livelihoods of tribals and forest dwellers. The rules are yet to be made public despite former environment minister Anil Madhav Dave’s assurance to the Rajya Sabha in July 2016, Ramesh said in separate letters to Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu.
On July 28, 2016, the late Dave had assured the Upper House that the rules for the Act would be finalised after extensive consultations with different stakeholders, including MPs, Ramesh wrote to Vardhan. Dave had also assured the House that the rights of gram sabhas under the Forest Rights Act 2006 would be fully protected and that compensatory afforestation under the Act would be undertaken only with the consent of the gram sabha concerned, the former environment minister said.
Over one-and-a-half years later, the rules are yet to be made public, Ramesh said. He had not got a reply from the present environment minister despite making a special mention in the House on July 19, 2017, he added. “Meanwhile, compensatory afforestation activities continue and the rights and livelihoods of lakhs of tribal and other traditional forest dwellers’ families are under serious threat. I get the distinct impression that you have no intention whatsoever of making the draft rules for the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 public and discussing them with an open mind with different stakeholders as your distinguished predecessor had promised,” Ramesh told Vardhan.
In a separate letter to Naidu, Ramesh referred to the special mention he had made in the House and said no consultation had taken place and no rules promulgated. “I regret to say that even after seven months, I have received no response to this special mention from the environment ministry. You have yourself urged ministers to respond both to special mention and zero hour notices expeditiously. I am sorry to point out that your directions have not been followed in this particular case,” Ramesh wrote to Naidu.
He wrote a second letter to Naidu, saying that he had also urged the tribal affairs ministry to give greater priority to the settlement of community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act 2006 during his special mention. He had asked the environment ministry to restore the 2009 policy which had made adherence to the provision of the Forest Right Act 2006 a prerequisite for environment and forest clearance for projects in tribal areas of the country.
“I regret to say that even after almost seven months I have received no response to this Special Mention either from the tribal affairs ministry or the environment ministry. This goes against the established practice and violates directions given to the ministers by the Chairman of Rajya Sabha including including by you yourself,” he told Naidu.