PM, CM in title clash

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh are playing the blame game over the settlement of tribal communities' claims to forestland

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: EMKAY)Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Madhya Pradesh (mp) chief minister Digvijay Singh are playing the blame game over the settlement of tribal communities' claims to forestland. It may be noted that elections to the mp legislative assembly are due later this year, and the state has a sizeable tribal population. So much so that their vote can make or mar a party's poll prospects.

Anticipating the premier's visit to mp's tribal-dominated Mandla district, Singh dashed off a letter to Vajpayee on June 14. He sought the pm's intervention in getting the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) to unconditionally settle the issue of tribal occupants' claims on forestland. The cm stressed that the encroachments the state government wanted to regularise were made before the passing of the Forest (Conservation) Act (fca) in 1980. Singh also raised the issue of transferring forest villages to the revenue department. He requested the pm to give an assurance to the people of Mandla on these matters.

Addressing a Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) rally on June 17, the pm said that the Union government had issued no-objection certificates and done the needful for transferring forest villages to the revenue department. He insisted that it was now the Congress-run state government's duty to give the patta (title deed) and issue the notification. Alluding to Singh's communications, Vajpayee said there was no point in sending "love letters".

Singh despatched a reply on June 21. He also addressed the media, claiming that Vajpayee had "unknowingly committed a mistake" and that he had not been "briefed properly" on forest villages. He said the state had submitted a proposal in 1995 for regularising encroachments. "After protracted correspondence at different levels and a series of meetings", the moef conveyed its 'in principle' approval in 2001. The ministry had, however, put two riders: that there should be no change in the legal status of forestland diverted, and that compensatory afforestation must be done on similar-sized tracts.

The state government argued that the first clause would deprive settlers of the normal benefits of land development. It also claimed to have carried out substantial compensatory afforestation. Singh now wants the moef to request the Supreme Court to modify its interim order that has stayed diversion of any forestland for non-forest purposes.

V K Bahuguna, inspector general of forests in-charge of fca in the moef, says that the issue had been addressed at a meeting chaired by Singh on May 20, 2003. The moef had then said that it had cleared regularisation of pre-1976 encroachments (pending compensatory afforestation). As for encroachments made between 1977 and 1979, the moef had told the state government to submit fresh proposals in accordance with the ministry's criteria. For encroachments made between 1979 and 1980, the state submitted fresh evidence of its decision to regularise them before the fca was enacted.

On the issue of conversion of forest villages to revenue villages, it was agreed that the forest department of mp would submit a fresh proposal with updated records. The moef doesn't want to approve conversion of forestland that has been encroached in anticipation of its change in status to revenue villages.

Digvijay Singh stated in his June 21 letter that moef conditions are "against the spirit of settlement of encroached land". The moef has retaliated by laying the blame squarely on the state governments, alleging that they have done little except promoting usurpation of forestland for political gain.

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