Coming from a government and party that claims sole proprietorship over ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’, the Modi regime is determined to snatch the legal safeguards and rights over Indian forests and peoples who live on them, hard earned after struggles that lasted over a century. That this exercise seeks to sneakily bypass Parliament makes it even more dangerous
Photo: Anisha Sheth / The Hindu
Last week, the Ministry of Environment and Forests uploaded a "draft National Forest Policy" and invited comments within a fortnight (two weeks). Then, faced with questions, inexplicably, the government declared that it was not a draft at all, but just a "study". This is odd, considering that the document is titled "National Forest Policy (Draft)."
A detailed note sent out by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity has analysed these developments.
This analysis states that the ‘policy document’ of the Modi government, that is and is not a policy (!) directly incites State Forest Departments to violate the single most important forest law passed since independence - the Forest Rights Act of 2006 - by supporting their disastrous Joint Forest Management policies and rechristening it "community forest management."
This move is particularly problematic, says the Campaign given the fact that, as per international studies, almost half the forest land in the country actually belongs to communities, as per law. Nowhere in the Modi government policy are the words "forest rights" contained and there is not one reference even to a path breaking legislation that made statutory obligations on the government towards forest land.
The track record of Ministry, of Environment and Forests over the past two years has been abysmal. Consider this:
- Framed a bill (the CAMPA Bill) for granting tens of thousands of crores to State Forest Departments for "planting trees in forests" - without a single word about the legal rights of those who use and live in those forests. In other words, an invitation to use these funds to grab lands and take over forests over which forest dwellers have statutory management rights under the law.
- Issued guidelines for allowing private companies to illegally take over forest lands and plant commercial plantations on them - while criminally preventing local communities from exercising their rights in those areas. Those guidelines too were never actually made public by the Ministry, and had to be exposed by a journalist.
- Illegally backed the passage of "village forest rules" by the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh governments - against the opinion of the NDA's own Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- Diverted huge areas of forest land for corporate projects while constantly violating - and sabotaging - the requirements for forest dwellers' consent and prior recognition of rights contained in the law.
This dangerous tendency to empower bureaucrats with sweeping, illegal powers –that contravene the law as it exists on statute books –is not just dangerous but is an authoritarian way of bypassing Indian parliament.
The final irony?
A self proclaimed "nationalist" ruling party obsessed with accusing others of being "anti-national" has been systematically involved in seeking to restore the colonial system of forest management and the colonial law on land acquisition denying Adivasis and other people who have rights over forest and farm land. The Environment Ministry of the Modi government leads in this reversal of basic human rights campaign.
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