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Mainstream, VOL LX No 31, New Delhi, July 23, 2022

New Amendments to Forest Rights Act 2006 To help Big corporations | Soma Marla

Friday 22 July 2022, by Soma S. Marla


Dr. Soma Marla *

While nominating Smt. Draupadi Murmu [as a candidate in India’s Presidential Election 2022], the ruling BJP boasted a savior of tribal people. However, by proposing changes to Forest Rights Act, 2996, the government is doing quite the opposite by subverting the interests of tribal people to benefit big companies.

During the current monsoon session of Parliament, new rules are proposed to the present Forest Rights Act 2006. These changes run against the interests of tribal people, and the conservation of forests and only serve large corporations. These amendments are being introduced to hand over community-owned forests to private mining and pharmaceutical companies. The Union Environment Ministry is introducing a bill to make amendments to the Forest Rights Act 2006. FRA was enacted in Parliament in 2006 by the then UPA government with active support from Left parties to protect the interests of the tribal population. Indian forests are home to nearly 200 million people who are directly dependent on forests for primary livelihood, while around 100 million people live on land classified as forest. In short, Adivasis living in forests are the true custodians of biological resources.

In the new 2022 Forest Conservation Rules, the environment ministry introduced rule 6(b)(ii) which liberalizes the diversion of forest land to private parties with no compliance with the Forest Rights Act 2006. The changes empower the district collector to override the approval of Gram Sabhas and transfer the forest land to private parties after charging them a nominal fee per hectare. The acquired parties will have unlimited proprietary rights to fell trees and displace wildlife to develop the acquired land for uses that include underground mining and the construction of buildings.

In British colonial times the Indian Forest Act of 1878. Was brought to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce to facilitate large-scale tree felling and export of enormous forest wealth and lumber to England. Over the decades the forest cover shrunk (by nearly 40 percent between 1810 and 1950), resulting in changes in monsoon patterns, droughts, and famines in the Indian subcontinent. Many of the tribes, the centuries-old natural custodians of these forests lost many of their ancestral and cultural rights and were driven away from forests by colonial masters.

Primarily FRA 2006 was brought by then UPA government to undo the historical injustice mooted to Adivasis from colonial British Indian Forest Act of 1878, and to empower them. 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 livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs. Also the entities in sections 6(1A) and (1B) proposed in the 2022 Forest Act Amendment Bill run against the spirit of the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (article 5) to which India is a party.

The new 2022 Forest Conservation Rules affirm that “clear felling” is indeed “removal of all natural vegetation” from land of size up to 40 ha and above, Present NDA government abdicating its Constitutional duties to protect the rights of STs and other traditional forest dwellers.

In the name of ‘Ease of doing business’ the ministry has now replaced Gram Sabhas, state governments, and various (affected) peoples committees with a ‘lean machinery’ consisting of a few designated officers and an advisory committee at the ministry. In summary, the forest bureaucracy controls all the approvals for forest land diversification proposals. Also the proposed amendments violate the 203 judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court mandating Gram Sabha’s approval for the diversion of forest land.

The tribal affairs ministry castigated the environment ministry, asserting that it was the nodal body for the Forest Rights Act, and that such orders of the environment ministry shouldn’t be considered. At this point, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) overruled the tribal affairs ministry’s objections. And on the PMO’s instruction, the environment ministry drafted the the present amendments to the FRA 2006

Indian forests are home to about 17,000 species of flowering plants and wild animals Opposing the amendments, biologists, conservationists and legal experts feel liberalizing the existing norms could be detrimental to ongoing forest conservation, and biodiversity efforts and run against the principle of sharing commercial benefits with indigenous communities. . Adivasis are custodians of biological resources, and the entities in section 6(1A) and (1B) proposed in the Amendment Bill are against the spirit of Convention of Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (article 5) to which India is a party.

The bill is being introduced in the forthcoming Monsoon session of Indian Parliament without seeking public comments, as required under the pre-legislative consultative policy in the country.

The forests are often referred as the “lungs of the planet” because they generally draw in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. The rainforests generate over 40 percent of the world ’s oxygen. Thus forest is defined as the lungs of the Earth Any legislative acts promoting deforestation accelerates present global warming today.

The government should immediately withdraw the proposed changes to FRA 2006 aimed to benefit large mining, Pharma industries and safeguard the rights of tribals and avert further deforestation.

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