the prime minister (pm), Manmohan Singh, has asked the ministries of environment and forests (moef) and tribal affairs (mota) to iron out their differences over the Scheduled Tribes (recognition of land rights) Bill 2005, at a recent meeting of the ministry officials, stakeholders, conservationists and tribal rights activists. The granting of land rights remains the contentious issue between the two groups, with the conservationists arguing against it. They believe that if the rights were granted to forest inhabitants it would pose a threat to wildlife and forests. The pm asserted that the United Progressive Alliance is keen to grant rights to tribals and wants the consultative process to be expedited so that the bill could be tabled in the winter session of Parliament.
Apparently, the cabinet committee, headed by Shivraj Patil, asked the moef to prepare their own draft about three weeks ago. Despite this, the officials from the moef hardly got in a word during the meeting in the pm's presence. And it was only after his departure that the moef officials offered to present their version of the draft bill. As of now, the mota and moef are now supposed to reconcile the concerns raised by the conservationists and amend the existing bill by October-end.
"One of the main outcomes of the meeting was the realisation that the gap between the conservationists and the tribal activists is not as wide as it is made out to be," said environment journalist Madhu Sarin, present at the meeting. She felt that the m o ef was unable to suggest any concrete changes to the draft bill and were raising vague issues.
The meeting saw a distinct change of tone from the conservationist lobby on the issue of relocation of tribals from protected areas to the fringes, with the consent of the people, within the next two years. Even wildlife activist Valmik Thapar, who earlier quoted a figure of 1,500 villages which needed to be relocated out of the tiger reserves, lowered the number to 400 villages, and this not only from tiger reserves but also from all protected areas in the country. Ulhas Karanth, wildlife biologist, said, "The money needed for relocation can come from earnings through mining leases and rural development."
After the consultative meetings between the moef and the mota in October, a workshop is going to be held in November where the amended bill will be thrown open for discussion and debate to experts and stakeholders.
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