Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Friday said he has expressed his reservations about the Centre’s Forest Conservation Rules 2022 to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as they “brazenly dilute” powers of local gram sabha and “uproot” the rights of forest-dwelling communities. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the chief minister urged Modi to bring about changes in the Forest Conservation Rules 2022 that will establish systems and procedures that protect the rights of the tribal and forest communities in the country.
“They (the rules) brazenly dilute power of local gramsabha & uprooting the rights of millions, members of forest dwelling communities, particularly the Adivasis,” he said in the letter dated December 1. The rules have eliminated the earlier mandatory requirements of obtaining the prior consent of the Gram Sabha before utilising forest land for non-forestry purposes, the letter pointed out. “To cut down trees without even an acquiescence from the people who look upon these trees as their ancestors is a painful attack on their sense of ownership,” it said.
In the letter, Soren said that as the chief minister of a state where 32 indigenous communities reside, he felt it is his duty to bring to the Prime Minister’s knowledge about the violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 in the change effected by the Forest Conservation Rules 2022.
An estimated 200 million people across India depend on forests for their primary livelihood, and around 100 million people live on land classified as forests, it pointed out. “These new rules will end up uprooting the rights of these people who have called the forests their home for generations but whose rights could not be recorded. Their traditional lands may get snatched away in the name of development, and these simple, pure-hearted people of our country will have no say in destroying their habitat,” he said in the letter.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MOEF) in 2009 clearly stated that no clearances for diversion of forest land under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 would even be considered by it before Stage-1 (in-principle) approval unless rights provided under FRA were first settled, the letter pointed out. In 2019, this provision was diluted to the extent that consent of Gram Sabha would be required before stage 2 clearance, the letter mentioned.
“However, in the new notifications of 2022, this condition for the consent of the Gram Sabha has been shockingly completely obliterated. “I implore that you step in and ensure that this fait accompli that has been created is done away with and the voice of the tribal man, woman, and child is not silenced under the guise of progress. Our laws must be inclusive,” the letter said.