FOREST CONSERVATION RULES, 2022 VS FOREST RIGHTS ACT, 2006
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Context: In the middle of a face-off with the Environment Ministry over the new Forest Conservation Rules (2022) potentially diluting the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has now secured FRA implementation reports of all States and Union Territories by invoking its Constitutional powers to approach the Supreme Court directly.
- After the Union government introduced the new FCR, the panel wrote to the Environment Ministry in September, asking that they be put on hold because they would violate provisions of the FRA.
- In response, Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav insisted that the rules were framed under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and that the panel’s apprehension was “not legally tenable”.
- The commission in February wrote to the Supreme Court Registrar, invoking powers under Clause 8d of Article 338A.
- Commission was looking to review the overall implementation of the FRA at the ground level, examine rejection of titles and encroachments on forest land. It will propose recommendations to further secure the rights of tribespeople, under its Constitutional mandate.
- This will be part of the report sent to the Office of the President, which will then be tabled in Parliament
- The new Forest Conservation Rules — notified by the Ministry on June 28 — do not mention the earlier requirement of attaining a gram sabha NOC before diverting forest land for a project.
- They also allow forest rights to be settled after the final approval for forest clearances has been granted by the Centre,a point flagged by critics.
- The settling of forest rights now needs to be carried out by the state government instead of the Centre, as was the case earlier. The state governments will be under even greater pressure from the Centre to accelerate the process of diversion of forest land, critics say.
- The government said that the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, are reformative with an objective to streamline the process of approvals under the Act, and enable the parallel processing under other Acts and Rules including FRA, 2006.
- The Forest Conservation Act of 1980, brought the diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the purview of the central government— prior to this the states were solely in charge of clearing projects and diverting forest land.
- The Forest Conservation Act, laid down the process by which forest diversion could be carried out for projects such as mines or dams.
- But the Forest Conservation Act, and the Forest Advisory Committee, which would decide on the cases of forest diversion, would earlier only look at issues of forest health, protection of wildlife species, major harm to biodiversity, the land required for compensatory afforestation in lieu of the forest diversion etc.
- It was only when the Forest Rights Act, 2006 was enacted that the government mandated that the rights of forest dwelling communities need to be recognised, and that they needed to be consulted before the project was sanctioned.
About the news rules:
- It constituted an Advisory Committee, a regional empowered committeeat each of the integrated regional offices and a screening committee at State/Union Territory (UT) government-level. The role of the Advisory Committee is restricted to advise or recommend with regards to grant of approval .
- The MoEFCC has directed the constitution of a project screening committee in each state/UT for an initial review of proposals involving diversion of forest land. The five-member committee will meet at least twice every monthand will advise the state governments on projects in a time bound manner.
- All non-mining projects between 5-40 hectaresmust be reviewed within a period of 60 days and all such mining projects must be reviewed within 75 days. For projects involving a larger area, the committee gets some more time — 120 days for non-mining projects involving more than 100 hectares and 150 days for mining projects.
- All linear projects (roads, highways, etc), projects involving forest land up to 40 hectares and those that have projected a use of forest land having a canopy density up to 0.7 shall be examined in the Integrated Regional Office.
- The applicants for diverting forest land in a hilly or mountainous state with green cover covering more than two-thirds of its geographical area, or in a state/UT with forest cover covering more than one-third of its geographical area, will be able to take up compensatory afforestation in other states/UTs where the cover is less than 20%.
Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006:
- The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.
- The Act encompasses Rights of Self-cultivation and Habitation which are usually regarded as Individual rights; and Community Rights as Grazing, Fishing and access to Water bodies in forests, Habitat Rights for PVTGs etc.
- It also provides rights to allocation of forest land for developmental purposes to fulfil basic infrastructural needs of the community.
- In conjunction with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Settlement Act, 2013 FRA protects the tribal population from eviction without rehabilitation and settlement.
- The Act further enjoins upon the Gram Sabha and rights holders the responsibility of conservation and protection of bio-diversity, wildlife, forests, adjoining catchment areas, water sources and other ecologically sensitive areas.
- The Gram Sabha is also a highly empowered body under the Act, enabling the tribal population to have a decisive say in the determination of local policies and schemes impacting them.
- Thus, the Act empowers the forest dwellers to access and use the forest resources in the manner that they were traditionally accustomed, to protect, conserve and manage forests, protect forest dwellers from unlawful evictions and also provides for basic development facilities for the community of forest dwellers to access facilities of education, health, nutrition, infrastructure etc.
- To undo the historical injustice occurred to the forest dwelling communities
- To ensure land tenure, livelihood and food security of the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers
- To strengthen the conservation regime of the forests by including the responsibilities and authority on Forest Rights holders for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance.
Q) Forest Conservation Rules of 2022 are in conflict with the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Critically Analyse. (150 words)