Brinda Karat writes to environment minister on proposed amendments in Forest Conservation Act

By PTI

NEW DELHI: CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat wrote to Union Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav on Wednesday on the proposed amendments in the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, saying the changes are designed to “undo” various Supreme Court judgements related to protection of forests and payment of compensation.

The Environment Ministry has proposed to amend the Act to do away with the requirement of prior government approval for the development of border infrastructure on forest land, saying it causes delay in the implementation of critical projects.

On October 2, it had invited suggestions from states, union territories and all people concerned on the consultation paper on the proposed amendments in the Act, within the next 15 days.

Karat alleged that the paper raises national security issues to permit projects in the name of national security to escape the provisions of the law.

She said the circular only gives 15 days for sending suggestions, not even 30 days as called for by the pre-legislative consultation policy.

“Studying the concrete amendments is all the more necessary since at first reading the proposals appear to be designed to undo various Supreme Court judgements related to protection of forests and payment of net present value compensation (NPV) and compensatory afforestation (CA) mandatory for diversion of forest land,” she said in the letter.

“It is noticed that wherever any inconvenience is perceived for project proponents using forest land for non-forest purposes, the note proposes to simply waive application of the FCA,” Karat said.

The CPI(M) politburo member said given the context of privatisation of infrastructure projects which require forest land, the proposals will not only “facilitate” the takeover of forest land, but make it cheaper and easier for corporates intending to take the “benefits of privatisation”.

“This also includes mining companies with the mining sector being opened up for takeover by domestic and foreign companies. This is what underlies the points raised in the note, which we oppose as they are more concerned about protecting private interests and projects rather than addressing environmental concerns,” Karat said.

“The proposals tend to dilute the rights of the states to notify forests thereby further centralising authority in the central government. Further centralisation is another ground to oppose the proposals,” the letter stated.

The senior leader also highlighted that the consultation paper does not mention anything on protection of the rights of tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers while the proposed amendments directly impact the rights granted under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

“The thrust of the consultation note is to loosen definition of forests, protected forests, deemed forests etc., so as to remove them from the conditions of diversion to non-forestry purposes without any reference as to how this will affect tribal communities and forest dwellers. This is the third reason to oppose the proposals as the note is completely silent on protection of the rights granted by law to tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers,” the letter read.

“This is a specious argument as national security concerns can and must be fulfilled according to the requirements of law. I would request you not to go ahead with these proposals as they are nothing but liberalisation to favour private interests over the interests of tribal communities, traditional forest dwellers and environmental concerns,” it added.