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NCST’s Stance On Forest Conservation Rules 2022

Context

In an indication of the escalating conflict between the government and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes over the Forest (Conservation) Rules (FCR) 2022, the NCST Chairperson recently stated that the NCST’s position on the new rules being in violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 “will remain the same,” despite the Environment Ministry dismissing these concerns.

Relevance

GS paper-3: Environmental Issues; Forest Conservation Act & Rules.

Mains Question

Examine the new Forest Conservation Rules 2022 and discuss the issues that arise as a result of them. (250 Words)


Key Highlights

  • According to the 2011 Census, the Scheduled Tribes number 104 million people, accounting for 8.6% of the country’s population.
  • The following are the essential characteristics of these communities: o Primitive traits; geographical isolation; distinct culture; fear of contact with the larger community; and economic backwardness.

Provisions of the new 2022 Forest Conservation Rules:

  • The Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) of 1980 was passed to aid in the conservation of the country’s forests.
  • The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 made the diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes a central government responsibility.
    • Until then, states were solely responsible for clearing projects and diverting forest land.
    • The Forest Conservation Act established the procedure for forest diversion for projects such as mines or dams.
  • It strictly prohibits and regulates the de-reservation of forests and the use of forest land for non-forest purposes without the Centre’s prior approval.
  • In the new set of rules (Forest Conservation Rules 2022), the government has allowed for forest rights to be settled after the Central Government has granted final approval for forest clearances.
  • It had removed the requirement to obtain Gram Sabha approval prior to Stage 1 clearance, deferring this process until after Stage 2 clearance.
    • In such a case, project proponents, having received partial approval, will push State and Union Territory governments for diversion as soon as possible, seriously impeding the process of recognising rights under the FRA.

Status of violation of FRAs

  • The Commission stated that between 2009 and 2018, of the 128 applications for forest diversion for mining, 74 were cleared at Stage 2 and 46 at Stage 1, with none of the rejections based on FRA non-compliance.
  • It went on to say that in a subset of 14 cases, certificates indicating completion of the FRA process were issued in defiance of ground realities, and no CFR (Community Forest Resources) process had been completed anywhere.
  • As a result, the Commission contended that the new Rules will only increase such violations.

Major Concerns raised over the new FCR 2022

  • Provisions of the newly formed Forest Conservation Rules 2022 destroy the very purpose of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and its meaningful use while considering proposals for diversion of forest land.
    • Once forest clearance is granted, everything else becomes a formality, and no claims are almost always recognised and settled.
    • The Centre will put even more pressure on state governments to speed up the process of diverting forest land.

National Scheduled Tribes Commission

  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was established by amending Article 338 of the Indian Constitution and inserting a new Article 338A through the 89th Amendment Act of 2003.
  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is a constitutional body whose role it is to protect the interests of scheduled tribes or under any other order to the government, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of such protections.
  • On all major policy issues affecting Scheduled Tribes, the Union and each State Government must consult the Commission.
  • The Commission and its officers participate in the formulation of policies and the development of programmes for Scheduled Tribes, including the Tribal Sub-Plan.
  • It is the Commission’s responsibility to intervene and recommend corrective measures whenever any rules run the risk of violating tribal people’s rights.

Government’s Views

  • According to the Environment Ministry, new rules were promulgated to streamline the approval process, introduce the concept of collective decision making, and address the dynamic changes in the ecological values of trees and forests.
  • As a result, the new rules will allow for parallel processing of proposals, thereby eliminating redundant processes.

Way Forward

  • Citing concerns about a provision in the new rules that proposes to eliminate the consent clause for the diversion of forest land for other purposes, the Commission recommended that these rules be put on hold immediately.
    • The requirement in the 2014 and 2017 Rules for consent and recognition of rights prior to Stage I clearance provided at least a legal space for ensuring completion of the processes for recognition and vesting of rights under the FRA in areas where forests are being diverted.
      • As a result, the two processes cannot be considered separate and parallel.

Conclusion

The challenge before us is to ensure that the benefits of development reach everyone while also preserving tribal forest rights. As a result, after extensive consultation with stakeholders, the government should take the necessary steps.


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