Ramesh signs RIP for FRA

Hands over third defective clearance to Posco


Prasanna Mohanty | May 2, 2011

Posco got its “first” final clearance from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on December 29, 2009, which came attached with 28 conditions.

The “second” final clearance was received on January 31, 2011, which came attached with “additional” 61 conditions.

The “third” final clearance has been given today (May 2, 2011). The old conditions remain. One new condition is added (Posco to bear the cost of regeneration of an equivalent amount of open, degraded forest land), but it effectively buries the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

The project needed two additional final clearances precisely because the project affected people said their forest rights had not been granted – a mandatory provision of the FRA.

Today’s order makes FRA irrelevant.

In his order, Ramesh quotes how the state government has said in its report that (a) the “palli sabha” resolution about non-settlement of FRA is defective on technical grounds – set procedures were not following to hold the meeting and adopt the resolution and (b) that there are no tribals in the area or anyone who can put forward credible claims about living and depending on forests for livelihood for 75 years.

The state government’s report is contrary to the findings of two high-powered committees appointed by Ramesh himself – Meena Gupta committee and Naresh Saxena committee. Both said FRA had not been implemented.

Ramesh overcomes this problem in a novel way. He says he has three options – (i) seek legal opinion, (ii) institute independent inquiry or (iii) repose faith in state government.

He opts for the third, saying: “Faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federation which is why I rejected the second option.” He conveniently forgets that he had sent two inquiry teams earlier.

His rejection of the first option is technical – that two-third of members didn’t sign the palli sabha resolutions, that the sarpanch convened the meetings, instead of the palli sabha and that the resolutions were not part of the book specifically provided for this purpose.

This means, the forest rights issue remains unresolved. Technical flaws don’t mean negation of rights. Secondly, the state government denies forest rights without providing evidence or justification.

It is well known that land records of the area have not been updated after 1947. Most of the people lost their land documents during the supercyclone of 1999, which devastated the entire block - Ersama in Jagatsinghpur district. A few still carry land rights issued to them by the local rulers before 1947. The area once was covered with mangroves that the supercyclone destroyed.

Ramesh accepts the state government’s assertion on face value.

He knows he is on the wrong. Therefore, he goes on to say:
“I want to address the question of whether my decision will weaken the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. To these critics I would answer that it was my personal insistence that in August 2009 the MoEF made adherence to the FRA an essential pre-requisite for allowing diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

“I was under no obligation or pressure to do so except my own commitment to FRA, 2006. The implementation of both the FRA, 2006 and the August 2009 guideline is a learning and an evolving process since we are still in largely unchartered territory. The Ministry of Environment and Forests will continue to upgrade and improve the process to ensure compliance with the law in letter and in spirit.”

This is a dubious argument. Enforcement of the forest rights is a legal and binding requirement. Not a discretionary power of Ramesh or his ministry, as he is suggesting. And his promise is nothing but deception.

Field report by NAC member Naresh Saxena has established how implementation of forest rights by the state governments is defective. Many have been denied their rights because the state governments and the forest departments are less than honest in their approach.

Ramesh has only given more room for the bungling state governments like Orissa to play with people's rights. He seems unaware that the objective of bringing in the FRA was to correct the "historical injustice" to the tribals and other forest dwellers.






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