After forcing the NDA government to retreat on amendments to the land acquisition Act, the Congress is now planning to launch an offensive against the government on the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is planning to launch a six-month campaign to protest attempts to “emasculate” the Act, one of the showpiece rights-based legislations of the UPA government.
Rahul has had a meeting with Congress presidents of seven states — Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat — to finalise the campaign plan. He will visit all the states as part of the campaign in the coming months.
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The Congress has been accusing the government of attempting to dilute environmental governance, tribal land rights and slash outlay for tribal sub-plan.
The erosion of its support base among the tribals had been a cause of worry for the Congress. While it recorded its worst ever performance in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the party could win only three of the Scheduled Tribe reserved seats, that too in the Northeast. It had won 20 in 2009.
In the last Parliament session, the Congress had protested against a Bill seeking to establish the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), claiming that its provisions would dilute the FRA. It had moved an amendment to the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, because of which the Bill could not be passed.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh drew a parallel between the Congress’s successful campaign against changes to the land acquisition Act last year and Rahul’s proposed campaign. He said attempts to dilute FRA was a “major political issue” on which Rahul would organise a “big political mobilisation” in the seven states. “The idea is to highlight how the Modi government has systematically emasculated, weakened, subverted, sabotaged the forest rights Act,” Ramesh said.
The party will also ask the government to adopt the recommendations of a panel set up by the UPA government on the socio-economic status of tribals. The panel had, among other things, recommended that non-tribal, including private companies, should not be allowed to acquire tribal land and gram sabha consent should be made mandatory for acquisition of land, even by the government for its own use.
The panel had submitted its report in May 2014, days after the BJP government came to power.