Expressing serious concern over the alleged bid by the BJP-led central government to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, has demanded that FRA should not be diluted even a bit “either in letter or in spirit”.
In a letter sent to Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, Jual Onam, Patel has referred to his ministry allowing Maharashtra government to have complete control over forest management and sale of forest produce.
He said that the permission by the tribal ministry resulted in Maharashtra state government going ahead with hiring the services of a private firm for collection and sale of forest produce, thus affecting the tribals adversely.
Patel said that FRA passed by the previous Congress-led UPA government had empowered the tribals and made them “true custodians of forest resources and its produce” by eliminating the nexus between the forest department and private contractors.
“But the recent interpretation of the Act by the tribal department has reversed this gain and once again put the future of our adivasis at the mercy of officials and private businessmen”, said Patel.
He said that it was quite likely that other state governments could also follow the line of the Maharasthra government in engaging the services of private contractors to have control over collection and sale of forest produce.
Apart from hurting the interest of adivasis, the Congress leader said that the dilution of the Act also undermined the legislature and judiciary. He pointed out that the supreme court in several judgements had held that no agency would have the authority to make any exemption under this Act either in part or in full. “Hence, the U-turn by your ministry is baffling”, Patel remarked.