MoTA’s job is FRA, not land diversion: DG Forest

Director General of Forest and Special Secretary at environment ministry says will take up matter with MoTA

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Friday 12 April 2019

Land diversion under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA) is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Siddhanta Das, director general of forest and special secretary in the ministry, said in response to the April 5 letter sent by Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA).

“MoTA’s job is Forest Rights Act (FRA), they cannot tell us about land diversion under FCA,” Das told Down To Earth. In the letter, MoTA had raised objections to a circular issued by MoEF&CC, which did away with the requirement of getting FRA compliance certificate before the Stage I approval is granted for forest land diversion.

The process of granting Forest Clearance (FC) by MoEF&CC, under FCA, is divided in two parts — Stage I and Stage II. The Stage I is in-principle approval; while the project proponent has to get all other permissions like environment clearance to get the Stager II approval.  There is usually a gap of two to three years between the two stages of approval. 

“What is Stage I clearance? It is only the in-principle approval given to make assessment about the project. We give the Stage I approval so that the net present value can be calculated, the project proponent can depose the money, and a wildlife plan can be created,” Das said.

“Stage I doesn’t mean land has been diverted. Many times Stage I approval is given but Stage II is not,” he added.

The letter, sent to MoEF&CC’s Deputy Inspector General Shrawan Kumar Verma, also drew attention to the decisions made during a joint meeting between MoTA and MoEF&CC on January 12, 2018.

While MoEF&CC had maintained that it (FRA compliance) would be required to be obtained by project proponent at Stage II FCA 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 and 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 and as such, the project proponent should produce proof of having initiated FRA clearance process at the point of going for Stage I FCA clearance itself

,” it said.  

Responding to this, Das said that the matter will be discussed with MoTA. “We have not yet responded to their letter, but we’ll take this up with MoTA and respond to their letter also.”

The diversion of forest land has become a bone of contention between the two ministries as there are 300 million forest dwellers in the country, who depend on these lands for their sustenance and hold traditional land rights over the same.

Under the FRA, legal recognition is given to these traditional rights in the form of land titles. Now, forest land diversion for various non-forestry purposes like mining, infrastructure projects, etc, is done under FCA — where the nodal ministry is MoEF&CC; while the FRA falls under MoTA.

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