The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has asked the Centre to put the new Forest Conservation Rules, 2022, on hold.
GS III- Science and Technology
Dimensions of the Article:
- What are the Forest Conservation Rules?
- What do the updated rules say?
- Other Provisions of Forest (Conservation) Rules,2022
- About National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)
- The point of contention flagged by NCST is- the new rules has no word for 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.
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 aims 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 striving to increase the area under forests.
Forest Advisory Committee (FAC):
- 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).
- This committee examines whether the user agency, or those who have requested forest land, have made a convincing case for the upheaval of that specific parcel of land, whether they have a plan in place to ensure that the ensuing damage — from felling of trees in that area, denuding the local landscape — will be minimal and the said piece of land doesn’t cause damage to wildlife habitat.
- Once the FAC is convinced and approves (or rejects a proposal), it is forwarded to the concerned State government where the land is located, who 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 ₹10-15 lakh per hectare.)
What do the updated rules say?
- The 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 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.
- While this has invited its own controversy, the latest point of contention is the absence of wording, in the updated Forest Conservation Rules, of 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.
- After 2009, the Environment Ministry passed an order mandating that proposals would not be entertained by the FAC unless there was a letter from the State specifying that the forest rights in the place had been “settled” and the gram sabha, or the governing body in villages in the area, had given their written consent to the diversion of forest.
- However, there have been a series of orders by the Environment Ministry over the years, and frequently opposed by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, that have sought to skirt the necessity for consent from the gram sabha.
- It formally codify this and 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.
Other Provisions of Forest (Conservation) Rules,2022
It constituted an
- Advisory Committee
- Regional empowered committee at each of the integrated regional offices
- Screening committee at State/Union Territory (UT) government-level.
- The Advisory Committee’s role is limited to providing advice or making recommendations regarding the grant of approval under applicable sections with regard to proposals that have been referred to it as well as any matter relating to the conservation of forests that has been referred to it by the Central government.
Project Screening Committee:
- For an initial examination of plans including the diversion of forest land, the MoEFCC has directed the establishment of project screening committees in each state and the UT. The five-member committee will meet at least twice a month and provide time-bound project advice to the state governments.
- Within 60 days for all non-mining projects with a size of 5 to 40 hectares, and within 75 days for all such mining projects.
- The committee is given greater time for projects covering larger areas: 150 days for mining projects and 120 days for non-mining projects involving more than 100 hectares.
Regional Empowered Committees:
- 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 — irrespective of their extent for the purpose of survey — 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%.
About National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)
- National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) is an Indian constitutional body that was established through Constitution (89th Amendment) Act, 2003.
- On the 89th Amendment of the Constitution coming into force on 19 February 2003, the National Commission for scheduled Tribes has been set up under Article 338A on bifurcation of erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution.
- With this amendment, the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was replaced by two separate Commissions namely;-
- The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC),
- The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST).
About NCST Composition
- The Commission comprises a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and three full-time Members (including one female Member).
- The term of all the Members of the Commission is 3 years from the date of assumption of charge.
Functions of NCST
- To investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards.
- To inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes.
- To participate and advise in the planning process of socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State.
- To present to the President, annually and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reports upon the working of those safeguards.
- To make in such reports, recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any State for effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes, and
- To discharge such other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes as the President may, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specify.
Powers of NCST
- For Investigation and Inquiry, the Commission is vested with powers of a civil court having authority to:-
- Summon and enforce attendance of any person and examine on oath.
- Discovery & production of any documents.
- Receive evidence on affidavits.
- Requisition any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
- Issue Commissions for examination of witnesses and documents; and
- Any matter which President, by rule, may determine.
Source: The Hindu