Forests

Ahead of SC hearing on FRA, MoEF asks states to share “encroachment” data

Forest Survey of India requests for geo-referenced locations of encroachments, but many states ill-equipped to do so

 
By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Monday 15 April 2019
Photo: Getty Images

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has started gearing up for the upcoming Supreme Court (SC) hearing on the petition challenging the constitutional validity of Forest Rights Act (FRA).

On March 7, 2019 the Forest Survey of India (FSI) — a body under the MoEF&CC which conducts surveys and assesses forest resources in the country — wrote to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of all states requesting for the geo-referenced location of “encroachments”.

Quoting the SC order of February 13, the letter says that the apex court had given the direction to FSI to conduct satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions. MoEF&CC and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) are respondents in the case filed by wildlife conservation organisations and former forest department bureaucrats.

“It is requested to kindly provide the geo-referenced digital vector boundaries of the encroachment positions relevant to the above order in respect of your state to enable us to initiate action in the matter to comply with the Honorable Supreme Court’s direction,” states the letter sent by Subhash Ashutosh, Director General, FSI.

Geo-referencing is the process through which the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of an area are assigned. It can be done using satellite imagery and a geographic information system (GIS). However, due to the poor implementation of FRA, the states are facing problems in undertaking this activity.

For example, there are no digital records of claims filed, rejections and appeals available with the state of Jharkhand. As a knee-jerk reaction to the SC order, the state is currently undertaking a massive exercise of digitising the documents, starting from 2008 when FRA was implemented.

The Odisha government, meanwhile, has told FSI that they do not have the capability to create geo-referenced boundaries. “FSI was told that the government doesn’t have the capacity to act on their request. The government asked FSI to send people to help, however, FSI replied saying that it is the state government’s job,” a source told Down to Earth on condition of anonymity.  

For the upcoming hearing, the SC has asked the states to file affidavits giving details about the number of rejections of FRA claims and the appeals made against the same. The states have to file these responses by July 12 this year.

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