The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has formed an expert committee to study the subject. The committee has been formed in response 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 chaired by Ananta Nayak (member of NCST).
- NCST is a constitutional body that was established through 89th Amendment Act, 2003 by inserting Article 338A in the constitution.
- The commission is mandated to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution.
- It will examine the new rules notified under the Forest Conservation Act.
- The committee will also examine the FRA, 2006, and other issues related to the Forest and STs.
What are the ‘Forest Conservation Rules’?
- The Forest Conservation Rules deal with the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980.
- They prescribe the procedure to be followed for forest land to be diverted for non-forestry uses such as road construction, highway development, railway lines, and mining.
- The broad objectives of the Forest Conservation Act are to –
- Protect forest and wildlife,
- Put brakes on State governments’ attempts to hive off forest land for commercial projects and
- Strive to increase the area under forests.
- For forest land beyond five hectares, approval for diverting land must be given by the Central government.
- This is via a specially constituted committee, called the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
Role of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) –
- The FAC is a statutory body established under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980.
- The FAC considers questions on the diversion of forest land for non-forest uses such as mining, industrial projects, townships and advises the state government on the issue of granting forest clearances.
- Once the FAC is convinced and approves (or rejects a proposal), it is forwarded to the concerned State government where the land is located.
- The state government then has to ensure that provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006, a separate Act that protects the rights of forest dwellers and tribals over their land, are complied with.
- The FAC approval also means that the future users of the land must provide compensatory land for afforestation as well as pay the net present value (ranging between Rs 10-15 lakh per hectare.)
Forest Conservation Act, 2022 Rules –
- The latest version of the rules, which consolidates changes to the Forest Conservation Act over the years from various amendments and court ruling, was made public in June, 2022.
- The new rules make a provision for private parties to cultivate plantations and sell them as land to companies who need to meet compensatory forestation targets.
- This, according to the Central government, will help India increase forest cover as well as solve the problems of the States of not finding land within their jurisdiction for compensatory purposes. In the earlier rules, there was no such provision.
- Also, in the new rules, there is no mention about what happens to tribals and forest-dwelling communities whose land would be hived off for developmental work.
- Prior to the updated rules, state bodies would forward documents to the FAC that would also include information on the status of whether the forest rights of locals in the area were settled.
Controversy surrounding the new rules –
- The new rules say that a project, once approved by the FAC, will then be passed on to the State authorities who will collect the compensatory fund and land, and process it for final approval.
- Only in passing, is it mentioned that the States will ensure settlement of Forest Rights Acts applicable.
- This, many forestry experts say, doesn’t automatically imply the consent of the resident tribals and forest dwellers.
- They claim that once a forest clearance was granted, no claims by forest dwellers and tribals would be recognised and settled.
- The State governments will be under even greater pressure from the Centre to accelerate the process of diversion of forest land.