Kolkata, 20/4 Sil Lane, Kolkata 700015
27th January, 2013
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
New Delhi 110001
011-23019545 / 011-23016857
Sub: Stop moves to bypass Forest Rights Act when taking forest land for large projects
Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh-ji,
For the last five years, ignoring protests from both people's organisations and political parties, and despite the Forest Rights Act 2006, the practice of illegally grabbing forest land has remained dominantly in vogue in most of the country. This happened because the Government of India could not make up its mind about what it intends to do with the Forest Rights Act, which recognises people's rights over forest resources and their legal power to protect and manage them. The land-grab continued despite adverse comments by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, protests and mobilisations from across the country, and rhetoric from your government about its commitment to adivasi rights. Even the Minister of Tribal Affairs in your/ government, Shri Kishore Chandra Deo, has to write twice to highlight this illegality. Apparently, this has not stopped the Environment Ministry from indulging in grossly illegal practices of considering and clearing projects with definite environmental impacts.
The law requires that no forest land can be taken for a project without a certificate from the affected gram sabhas that their rights under the Forest Rights Act have been recognised, and that they( gram sabhas) agree to the diversion. As the Minister of Tribal Affairs himself put it, this is being "honoured in the breach" and the concerned statutory bodies are "misleading project proponents and the public", thereby "produc[ing] conflict, harassment, injustice, delays and litigation."
The question one likes to be answered is how a government that has recently seen one after another eruption of public anger against its callous and corrupt favouring of private interests, affords to favour the same interests at the cost of millions of forest dwelling citizens of this country, and compromising their legal and constitutional rights?
We now learn from media reports that your office, and in particular a committee headed by your Principal Secretary, PMO, Pulok Chatterjee, has come out with a perfectly shocking state of ‘recommendations’ which aim to legalize the illegal practices the MoEF has been indulging in granting forest clearances for most projects. Citing a dubious reason of ‘delays in project clearances’ –something which none other than your Environment Minister has shown to be resulting from faulty documentation, fraudulent proposals and attempts at engaging in speculation—the rights of the some of the most marginalized and oppressed citizens of the country are to be sacrificed, by stipulating a series of unacceptable changes in the forest clearance process which in recent years has been to a great extent influenced by the order issued by the MoEF on August 2009. The order which provided for a much needed regulatory framework to ensure compliance with both Forest Rights Act and PESA in the forest clearance process stands to be nullified if the PMO Committee’s recommendations are acted upon: the recommendations directly violate the FRA and, in Scheduled Areas, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (as well as by implication the Fifth Schedule itself). Procedural delay cannot be an excuse for bypassing laws. The alacrity, with which your government seeks to serve the interests of large corporations and resource grabbers, while paying a lip service to protecting tribal rights, exposes the real character of the UPA government's administration.
We condemn this transparently corrupt, illegal and repressive move and demand. We therefore call upon you to:
- Uphold and strictly enforce the Forest Rights Act and the 2009 order of the Ministry of Environment and Forests for FRA compliance, ensuring that no forest land is taken without gram sabha consent and without certificates from gram sabhas that rights recognition is complete;
- Start criminal prosecution against officials who have diverted or tried to divert forest land without respecting people's rights;
- Withhold existing clearances for diversion of forest land. They should be cancelled if found to violate the provisions of the Act or the 2009 order. Where projects have already come up, those affected should be rehabilitated as well as granted additional compensation for the criminal violation of their rights (along with prosecution of those responsible).
Mahasweta Devi, Writer, Winner of Gyanpith and Magsaysay Award Winner
Dr. Ajit Banerjee, Ex- Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, West Bengal
Samar Bagchi, Ex-Director, Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Kolkata
Dr. Kalyan Rudra, River Expert, Columnist
Biswajit Mukherjee, Ex-Chief Law Officer, Dept. of Environment, Govt. of West Bengal
Prof. Sujay Basu, Scientist
Prof. Suvendu Dasgupta, Economist, Columnist
Jaya Mitra, Writer, Columnist
Dr. Meher Engineer, Ex-Director, Bose Institute, Kolkata
Naba Dutta, Columnist and Secretary, Nagarik Mancha
Jayanto Basu, Environmentalist
Balai Soren, Secretary, Adibasi Banabasi Adhikar Mancho
Soumitra Ghosh, Secretary, Nespon, Siligui, West Bengal
Sasanka Dev, Secretary, DISHA, Kolkata
Pradip Chatterjee, Secretary, National Fishworkers’ Forum
Gobinda Das, Secretary, Sundarban Matsyajibi Joutha Sangram Committee
Tejendralal Das, President, Dakshin Banga Matsyajibi Forum