New FCA rules not in compliance with FRA, endanger rights of tribals and forest dwellers

The new Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 were notified June 28 and will be put before both Houses of Parliament in the current session for approval

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Friday 29 July 2022

Forest rights activists and policy researchers have criticised the changes to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. They have pointed out that the new rules will dilute the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) notified new rules called the ‘2022 Forest Conservation Rules’ in the FCA in the last week of June 2022.

Read Changes to Forest Conservation Rules dilute forest rights, say tribal communities

The new rules will replace the 2003 Forest Conservation Rules and its subsequent amendments in 2004, 20014 and 2017.

One of the major changes in the new Rules is that they make no mention of the Gram Sabha’s consent before stage II clearance, which was made mandatory in the FCA in 2017 through an amendment, Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, told Down To Earth.

The new Rules state:

The State Government or Union Territory Administration, as the case may be, after receiving the ‘Final’ approval of the Central Government under Section 2 of the Act and after fulfilment and compliance of the provisions of all other Acts and rules made thereunder, as applicable including ensuring settlement of rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (No. 2 of 2007), shall issue order for diversion, assignment of lease or de-reservation, as the case may be.

Kohli said the environment ministry had delinked its processing of forest diversion applications from the requirement of Gram Sabha consent.

“This was a legal standard that the ministry itself had first upheld through a circular in 2009 and through the Rules under the Forest Conservation Act in 2017. It had thus democratised the forest diversion procedure that has historically been opaque and exclusionary.

“We go back to a procedure when forest diversions are a matter discussed between central and state governments through assessments only by the state forest departments,” Kohli said.

The changes to the key environmental law were supposedly made to streamline the approval process for various projects requiring diversion of forest land.

“In 2009, the MoEF had made it mandatory for the FCA to be in compliance with the FRA. But in 2014, the Gram Sabha’s certificates on consent for diversion, were replaced with the district collector’s certificate,” CR Bijoy, an independent policy researcher, told DTE.

“This means that the collector has dual roles, one for the approval of claims for FRA and the second to produce the consent for diversion of forest land.

“While there is no timeline for granting the titles, there is a deadline for consent for diversion of forest land for a project. It is but obvious that the collector will be forced to comply by what is more urgent,” he added.

This is however not the first time that MoEF&CC has made rules to override the FRA.

“In 2019, the MoEF&CC said there was no need to comply with the FRA for the stage I clearance of projects and pushed the compliance requirement prior to stage II clearance and the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ (MoTA) opposition to these changes had no effect,” Bijoy added.

He said the new Forest Conservation Rules 2022 have totally done away with the clause of complying with FRA and have made it into a whimsical feature according to the discretion of the state governments.

“In other words, the Centre has left the states to do the fighting with the people. The compliance with FRA has been left to the state after the clearance by the Centre has already been given,” Bijoy said.

This will mean that the state government will not be able to tell their citizens that the land has already been given for a project and will keep the truth from them and will be complicit to the Centre’s decision.

“When the people will finally come to know about it, the state government will ask them to go and appeal to the central government as the clearance was given by them, while the Centre will say that compliance with FRA is the state government’s responsibility. The people will be neither here nor there,” Bijoy said.

The 2022 Forest Conservation Rules will be placed for approval before the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for 30 working days, according to the MoEF&CC website.

The monsoon session of Parliament began July 18 and will end August 12. It will decide whether or not these proposals will be approved or whether the two Houses will suggest modifications.

“The Rules have already been notified and gazetted and it remains to be seen if the members of the two Houses will approve these rules which seriously endanger the rights of the scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers,” Bijoy said.

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