Averting an immediate clash with the Centre, the Maharashtra government has agreed to keep in ‘abeyance’ a set of rules it had framed for the management of forest villages in the state. The move follows an order from the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry in this regard.
In a letter, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, the Maharashtra Revenue and Forest Department has told the Union ministry that it is re-examining the matter and seeking legal opinion, thus holding the rules in ‘abeyance’, even while clarifying that the rules framed by the state will not interfere with the Forest Rights Act.
In May this year, the Maharashtra Revenue and Forest department had notified the Maharashtra Village Forest Rules that effectively gave the forest department control over forests and its produce. The Union ministry had argued that the new rules were “prima facie in violation” of the FRA which gives people living in forests legal property rights over the land and forest products.
The state government’s letter seeks to clarify that the rules will have “no effect” on the FRA. “For removal of doubt, in the said Circular, it is also clarified that the Indian Forest (Maharashtra) (Regulation of assignment, management and cancellation of village forests) Rules 2014 shall have no effect whatsoever on process of recognition and vesting of rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006,” the letter states.
Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram’s ministerial colleagues from Maharashtra — Rural Development Minister Nitin Gadkari and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar — had, in separate communications, asked him to withdraw his ministry’s order.
With the latest communication from the Maharashtra government, sources in the Union ministry say it will not pursue the matter, unless the state government makes some move.