26th April 2012
The Ministry of Environment and Forest’s (MoEF) committee that examines and recommends the proposals for forest clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has in its meeting dated 2nd April 2012 clarified that no stage 1 Forest Clearance would be accorded to any project until the documentary evidence related to process of settlement of rights under the 2006 Forest Rights Act is presented. Citing the earlier circular of the MoEF dated 3rd August 2009 the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has made it clear that compliance to the provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006 is now mandatory when forest clearance applications are considered by the MoEF committee.
The MoEF circular of August 2009 very categorically states that the proposals for diversion of forest land from the state government among other enclosures requires “A letter from the State Government certifying that proposals for such diversion (with full details of the project and its implications, in vernacular /local languages) have been placed before each concerned Gram Sabha of forest-dwellers, who are eligible under the FRA”. Even more importantly the instruction clearly states the requirement of “A letter from each of the concerned Gram Sabhas, indicating that all formalities/processes under the FRA have been carried out, and that they have given their consent to the proposed diversion and the compensatory and ameliorative measures if any, having understood the purposes and details of proposed diversion”. The Forest Rights Act (Recognition of Scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers) 2006, is a historical piece of legislation that recognises the rights of forest dwelling and dependent communities on forest lands.
“It is very critical that the MoEF took cognizance of the fact that the forest lands being diverted for hydroprojects, mines, transmission lines etc are directly affecting the rights of the local communities in a state like Himachal Pradesh. The 2009 circular recognises the importance of FRA 2006 before Forest Clearances and its acknowledgement of Gram Sabha’s consent is noteworthy – a decision that calls for immediate implementation.” added members of Him Dhara, an Environment Research and Action group based in Himachal Pradesh.
In the same meeting of 2nd April 2012, and the consecutive meeting of 20th April 2012 the FAC applied this decision to projects like the 775 MW Luhri HEP (271 hectares forest land), the transmission line from Banala to amritsar (137 hectares forest land) and the Renuka Dam (775 ha forest land) – whose forest clearance proposal will not be considered till the August 2009 circular is complied with. All three projects have faced local opposition in some form or another by the affected people.
It is important to note that Himachal Government’s cabinet after much delay has in March 2012 decided to implement the Forest Rights Act 2006 in the non tribal areas of the state, apart from the tribal districts of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and parts of Chamba.
Minutes of the FAC meeting dated 20th April 2012 can be found at the link below