NEW DELHI: Responding to the controversy that the new rules notified under the Forest Conservation Act dilute the rights of the forest dwellers, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has formed an expert committee to study the subject, including the principal law granting forest rights and other issues pertaining to the STs.
NCST sources said it marks a prima facie acknowledgement that the FCA, 2022 rules tread on the rights of the marginalised communities living in forest areas as enshrined in the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
The “working group” will examine the FRA, 2006, and “other issues related to the Forest and STs”. While its terms of reference are still to be finalised, sources said the rubric it is formed under makes the agenda “open-ended”, which can go into any subject pertaining to tribals. Comprising six persons, the panel will be chaired by Ananta Nayak, member, NCST.
According to sources, the panel was put in place following a feedback that rules, 2022, have sent a message down the lower rungs of bureaucracy that consent of the “gram sabha” is now secondary to the process of forest clearance.
At the heart of the row are the rules 2022 notified by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, on June 29.
As the path-breaking flagship law which grants land and other traditional rights to the forest dwellers, the FRA lays down that rights recognised in the statute will be settled, and consent of ‘gram sabha’ will be taken, before the diversion of the forest land for a project or other reason.
Congress has alleged that new rules violate this statutory provision by allowing for the forest rights to be settled after the “final approval” for forest clearances has been granted by the central government. Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge shot off a letter to NCST chairman Harsh Chouhan, urging him to ensure the compliance of FRA before approval of forest diversions.
However, the Centre has rebuffed the allegations, with forest minister Bhupender Yadav saying, “The Rules 2022 have been promulgated solely to implement the provisions of the FCA. No rule or provisions of any Act are being diluted. The process has been streamlined for reducing the timelines for arrival at the final decision… Processes and provisions envisaged in the Rules, 2022, are not inconsistent with the other statutory laws including FRA, compliance of which can also be ensured simultaneously by their respective nodal implementing agencies to reduce the time lag and cost involved.”

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