While the Congress celebrates the Forest Rights Act, 2006 as one its major achievements in the ongoing session of Parliament, the party-led Chhattisgarh government, in its submission to the Supreme Court, has sought to skirt the Act based on an UPA-era circular already struck down by a High Court.
Referring to a letter issued by the Environment Ministry in February 2013, the Chhattisgarh government submitted that “for projects like construction of roads, canals, laying of pipelines, etc where linear diversion of forest land is involved, there is no requirement to obtain the consent” of the gram sabhas concerned unless right of primitive tribal groups are affected, which is not the case in the project area.
In a landmark judgment on March 6 this year, the Andhra Pradesh High Court set aside the February 2013 circular as inconsistent with FRA and Section (4) of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act.
The Chhattisgarh government submitted its affidavit as respondent in a civil appeal filed in the Supreme Court, challenging a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order that upheld the forest clearance granted in May 2014 for the construction of Dalli Rajhara-Rowghat railway line. The petitioner claims that clearance for 83.12 hectare forest land was issued without the consent of the gram sabhas concerned or settling forest rights.
The next hearing of the case is on August 2.
Senior Chhattisgarh forest officials defended the affidavit “cleared by the competent authority” for submission. Prem Kumar, CCF, Kanker Circle, said: “The forest clearance process in question was completed in 2014, long before the 2013 circular was struck down. So should this have retrospective effect? In any case, the state government tried to get consent from gram sabhas in the project area.”
Incidentally, in Rajya Sabha, while defending the FRA and rejection of claims without following due process, Congress MP and former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh warned last month that the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, would not only undercut the FRA but also come in conflict with the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act.