ARGUING THAT the amendments proposed by the BJP government to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 are a “blueprint for centralization, commercialisation and criminalisation,” the CPI(M) asked the Centre on Wednesday to withdraw the changes.
The party also insisted on bringing the Indian Forest Act in conformity with the Forest Rights Act and other related laws which they said “seek to redress the historical injustices faced by tribal communities.”
In a letter to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat accused him of defending the amendments and playing down the “extremely repressive measures” proposed in the Act.
Karat stated that British colonialists established government ownership over forests and declared tribal communities to be encroachers through the Forest Act, 1927. She added, “91 clauses in the amendments now proposed, including entirely new sections, go even beyond what the British dared to do, by militarising forest conservation.”
“The amendments criminalise every aspect of tribal life giving untrammeled powers to the forest bureaucracy to arrest without warrant and use arms to implement the law. Symbolic of this repressive approach is the inclusion of the Chief of Army Staff (s.89-(vii) ) as a member in the proposed National Forestry Board. Presumably the Chief of India’s army now has the time to discuss how to ‘protect’ forests, not borders,” read her letter.
“On the other side, the role of the gram sabha, particularly in tribal inhabited areas, so critical to management, conservation and preservation of forests and tribal rights has been erased altogether. The amendments are a blueprint for centralisation, commercialisation and criminalisation. The amendments will not help to conserve forests as is its declared aim. On the contrary, the amendments extinguish existing rights of tribals and other Traditional Forest Dwellers…” she added.
The proposed amendments, she said, are “an affront to the Constitution, to democracy and to the legal framework to protect tribal rights, in particular and those of traditional forest dwelling communities in general. She argued that the Environment Ministry has no jurisdiction over the rights of tribals. “Yet through these amendments, your Ministry seeks to supersede all legislations related to tribal rights and make them subordinate to this proposed Act,” said Karat.