What is the point of passing the Forest Rights Act if the government prevents its implementation?
Pratap Vikram Singh | February 14, 2014
Without settling the claims made under Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the 36 preconditions prescribed by the group of ministers, the government is learned to have granted stage-II forest clearance to the Mahan coal block, located at Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh. Ministry of coal gave the coal block to Mahan Coal Limited, a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco, in 2006.
According to government’s own estimate, over 94 percent of the coal block has gross forest cover. The mining of forest around Mahan would mean cutting down of more than 'half a million trees, which act as watershed for the adjoining Rihand Reservoir. Mahan has the last chunk of unfragmented forest which is full of sal trees, which grow naturally and is not easy to replant. This would also mean jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of 14,000 tribals and others dependent on the forest.
The project has been vociferously opposed by two ministers of the Congress-led government. In 2011, Jairam Ramesh, holding the environment and forest ministry portfolio, denied forest clearance, based on the report of an expert forest rights committee. V Kishore Deo, minister of tribal affairs, has written several times to Madhya Pradesh government criticising it for not granting even a single community forest right in Singrauli, where there are large number of forest land diversion for non-forest use.
After coal ministry’s approval in 2006, the environment clearance was given in 2008. The project got stage-I forest clearance in 2012 as per the recommendations of the group of ministers led by P Chidambaram.
Within 20 days of taking charge, Veerappa Moily, the new minister for environment and forest, cleared 70 projects which were at various stages of approval. Moily has said that he will be clearing all the pending files by mid-February. Agitated by Moily’s blatant disregard to the environment and rights under the FRA, civil society organizations have demanded his resignation.
Reacting to the recent development, Priya Pillai of Greenpeace said in a statement: "As feared, Mr. Moily continues to extend hasty clearances to projects that will strip thousands of their livelihoods and only source of survival. Despite clear evidence of violations of the Forest Rights Act and other mandatory conditions, Mr. Moily has pushed through Stage-II clearance for the Mahan coal block. This project involves the loss of over 500,000 trees and will impact over thousands of people in 54 villages. Mr. Moily has ridden roughshod over the concerns raised by the Minister of Tribal Affairs KC Deo, begging the question – does this government really care about either forest dwellers or the environment?"
"We are dismayed by this decision as this project is a direct threat to our lives. Thousands of us depend on these forests. We will continue to fight this project and will not give up our forests for the Mahan coal mine. Despite the support of the minister of tribal affairs, this news makes us wonder if any of the ruling parties at centre or state actually care about the fate of adivasis and forest-dwellers. What is the point of passing the Forest Rights Act if the same government then prevents its implementation?" said Kripanath Yadav of the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti.
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