REMINDING THE Environment Ministry that an authority deemed guilty of violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) is “liable to be proceeded against” under the Act, the Tribal Affairs Ministry has asked the former to modify its circular that had made compliance under the FRA unnecessary for considering a project for forest clearance.
As reported by The Indian Express on March 10, the Environment Ministry issued a circular on February 26, stating that compliance with FRA and obtaining consent of the gram sabha under the Act was no longer necessary to consider projects on forest land.
In its letter on April 5, the Tribal Affairs Ministry underlined that it did not endorse the Environment Ministry’s February 26 circular that was circulated to all states/UTs. “Even if MoEFCC does not insist on compliance to FRA, it cannot be said that this authorises them to violate FRA,” the letter warned.
The Tribal Affairs Ministry’s letter referred to a meeting between the two ministries on January 12, 2018 when it was decided that proof of having initiated the FRA process should be produced before a project is considered for Stage I forest clearance.
At that meeting, the letter further said, “While MoEFCC had maintained that it (compliance to FRA) would be required to be obtained by a project proponent at stage II of forest clearance, the views of MoTA is that this would prove to be fait accompli as by that time the project proponents would have made sufficient progress and the tribals living in the forest area earmarked for use by project would be put to a great disadvantage.”
The proposal for diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose are considered by the Environment Ministry in two stages. Stage 1 clearance is when in-principle approval is given for the project. Stage II clearance is obtained only after complying with all statutory and regulatory requirements clearances.
According to the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Rules 2016, the district collector needs to complete the process of vesting of forest rights under the FRA and obtain written consent of the affected gram sabhas before any project proposal reaches the forest department for consideration. This rule has been in effect since August 2009, when the Environment Ministry made compliance with the FRA a precondition for project clearance. Until the Environment Ministry diluted it on February 26.