Govt sabotaging Forest Rights Act, says tribal rights group

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New Delhi, Sep 24 (UNI) A tribal rights group today accused the UPA Government of trying to sabotage the Forest Rights Act in the process of framing rules and regulations.

The conspiracy was to take land from forest dwellers in the name of conservation and to give them to the industry and timber mafia, it said.

Alleging connivance of the Environment Ministry, the Campaign for Survival and Dignity said moves were afoot to hastily declare forest dwellers' settlements as ''critical wildlife habitat'' without any proper procedure and without properly relocating them.

Meanwhile, across the country, the forest authorities were evicting people to drive them out before the new law titled the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers(Recognition of Forest Rights) Act comes into force, leaders of the Campaign said addressing a press conference here.

They said they had found after field visits and studying documents that the Government was plannig a relocation package consisting essentially of cash compensation to those being resettled, allowing for large scale corruption and leaving people stranded with no livelihood.

More than Rs 1000 crore allocated for this process for the next year would most probably be siphoned away to fill others' pockets, said the Campaign leaders, adding that the Rules of the Act were undermined to make it easier for vested interests to misuse the law.

For example, the rules have been changed to provide that outside scheduled areas, the gram sabha is to be the gram sabha of the panchayat or the revenue village, not the actual hamlet or settlement. This will mean that rights to forest resources under the Act would be decided in huge assemblies, where in many mixed areas, forest dwellers would be in a minority.

This, they said will destroy democratic functioning and make it easier to manupulate gram sabha resolutions in favour of vested interests.

Moreover, the Government has retained clauses that allow them to exclude many real forest dwelling communities, including people who were brought in by the government itself. On the other hand it has rejected a clause in the Rules stating that those who use hired labour--contractors, traders etc-- should be excluded from being eligible, which means that Act will be misused both to take over forest land and to exclude many forest dwellers.

Besides, the Act gave forest communities the right to protect their forests against destruction, but instead of defining this right, the government had put in rules requiring them to conserve as per the ''official working plan'', while not giving the community the right to halt or regulate forest destroying activities by government agencies and companies, the rights group said.

The Act provides that people have the right to use, collect and dispose of minor forest produce, but the government now wanted to restrict the word ''dispose'' to meaning carrying the forest produce to the nearest, which will encourage more corruption and extortion by forest gaurds.

''Rather than make Rules for resettlements from protected areas as part of this Act. The current Rules hand that issue over to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the very department that has vested interest in bad and hasty resettlement,'' said the Campaign leaders.


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