Environment ministry reiterates its stance on FRA compliance in forest land diversion

MoEFCC letter sent two days before SC stayed its order on rejected FRA claims

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Wednesday 06 March 2019
Representational Photo: Getty Images
Representational Photo: Getty Images Representational Photo: Getty Images

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) told all states that compliance under Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is not required for an in-principle approval in the initial stage of any project. This will affect projects requiring diversion of land even as the fate of the 200 million forest dwellers hangs in balance after the February 13, 2019 order of the Supreme Court.

In the letter sent on February 26, 2019 the ministry pointed to the Forest (Conservation) amendment Rules 2016 and the provisions within it to be followed while diverting forest land. “For the purpose of the MoEF&CC, as per the provision under Forest (Conservation) amendment rules, 2016, the compliance under FRA is not required for consideration of in-principle approval,” the letter by the Deputy Inspector General of Forests, Shrawan Kumar Verma, said.

The letter was sent two days before the SC stayed its order on rejected FRA claims. The latest letter is a reiteration of a December 3, 2018 letter where the MoEF&CC undermined FRA, despite coming to an agreement on the issue with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) during a meeting that was held in January 2018.

At the meeting, MoTA raised the concern that a later-stage requirement for FRA would be a “fait accompli”. By the second stage, project proponents would have progressed and tribals living there would be at great disadvantage.

“It has been seen that many a times the project applies for FRA clearance only in the last minute and this results in the project getting delayed for want of FRA clearance. It was suggested that the project proponent should produce proof of having initiated FRA clearance process at the point of going in for Stage I-FCA clearance itself,” state minutes of the meeting.

The MoEF&CC had agreed with the concerns and decided to act on them, but the letters of December 3, 2018 and February 26 state completely opposite things.

"Doing away with the FRA compliance at Stage I clearance increases the chances of manipulation at the gram sabha level. The project propent after getting the Stage I clearance identifies the influencial people in the gram sabha and tries to buy their support," Giri Rao of Vasundhara — a Bhubaneswar-based non-profit working on the implementation of FRA. 

Citing fait accompli as a reason, many mines have gotten clearance without settling rights under FRA. There are also cases where the same logic is used not just to grant forest clearance to mines, but also reject already given titles under FRA. In the Parsa East coal block in Chhattisgarh, claims given under FRA were rejected on the ground that the mining clearance had been granted before granting of the titles under FRA.

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