A group of 21 MPs from opposition parties have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, complaining about attempts by BJP-ruled states to sideline key provisions of the Forest Rights Act, with active support of “powerful ministers in your cabinet”.
The letter comes days after it became known that the Chhattisgarh government had issued a letter to its district collectors directing them to obtain certificates from gram sabhas by August 15, verifying that the implementation of the Forest Rights Act had been completed.
“Since very few community forest rights have been recognised in the state, this is clearly illegal and an attempt to preempt proper implementation of the Act,” the MPs have said.
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Among those who have signed the letter are CPI’s C N Jayadevan, CPM’s P K Biju, M B Rajesh, P Karunakaran and Mohammed Salim, Congress’s Biren Singh Engti and Ninong Ering, NCP’s Tariq Anwar, AAP’s Bhagwant Mann, SP’s Dharmendra Yadav and JD(U)’s Kaushelendra Kumar.
The Forest Rights Act seeks to give forest dwellers ownership of the land they have been living on or depend on for their livelihood. These people are also supposed to get community ownership of shared resources like grazing fields, forests, or ponds.
“The Maharashtra government has been implementing the Maharashtra Village Forest Rules, 2014, despite the fact that these illegally attempt to block the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers over non-timber forest produce… Senior ministers Prakash Javadekar and Nitin Gadkari have been supporting the Maharashtra government’s continued violation of rights,” the MPs have said.
“On June 4, the Madhya Pradesh government issued new village and protected forest rules that are even more grossly illegal than the Maharashtra rules. They reduce forest dwellers to mere collectors… and indirectly permit private companies to be involved in forest management,” they said. The MPs urged the PM to “intervene in the matter” and ensure that the “noble objective of this historic law” is protected.