#India-Stop moves to bypass Forest Rights Act when taking forest land for large projects #tribalrights


 

To:

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).

Thanking You

 

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

 

Tiger Reserves: The Realities Behind a Controversy


 

 

 

English: A Bengal tiger in the wild in Rantham...

English: A Bengal tiger in the wild in Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave the Environment Ministry four weeks’ more time on the guidelines for tourism in tiger reserves. The ongoing saga around “tiger tourism” has unleashed a great deal of media commentary, but most of this commentary is beside the point. The issue is not tourism alone. The key problem is that these reserves are not being managed in any rational, accountable or even legal way.  The system that controls our tiger reserves is basically broken, and it is so broken that it has resisted every effort to fix it – even those that are required by law. Some of the facts:

 

  • The boundaries of critical tiger habitats (‘core areas’) and buffer zones were decided unscientifically, arbitrarily and without public input, in direct violation of law. The government has not published any scientific parameters for this till date.
  • The way tiger reserves are administered is decided purely by the forest bureaucracy. There is little publicly available information on how this is done.
  • The same forest officials who permitted unregulated tourism have illegally prevented practically all recognition of forest rights in tiger reserves, with a few exceptions. Those who have no legal rights are permitted to do as they wish; those who do have legal rights are being exploited and harassed.
  • The same individuals speaking today for tourism had vehemently opposed any people’s rights in tiger reserves; in fact they had supported illegal and hasty conversion of entire existing tiger reserves into “core areas” in a futile attempt to stop people from having rights. This has been openly admitted by conservationist and tourism advocate Valmik Thapar in Tuesday’s Indian Express.

 

The tourism lobby is not the first to misuse this system; it will not be the last. Meanwhile, the underlying problem is not only being ignored – it’s being made worse.

 

Tiger reserves are administered in a remarkable fashion – as mini police states. While the forest bureaucracy may be understaffed, it is not lacking in powers, which are incredibly wide. The Wild Life Act makes it possible to detain people without bail, declare a person guilty until proven innocent if they are found with prohibited material (which is easy enough to plant), and gives these officials sweeping powers to prohibit all kinds of activities. Everything in tiger reserves today, whether it is the boundaries of the reserve, the handling of forest protection and management, and even evaluation of their own performance, is under the control of forest officials. In States such as Assam, forest officials have been empowered to kill people with the assurance that the government will protect them from any kind of investigation. The NTCA is exhorting other tiger states to set up armed commando forces for tiger protection and demanding that all State governments insulate them from prosecution for killings. They are seeking total immunity from punishment.

 

Naturally such a system cannot lend itself to either effectiveness or accountability. Whether it is unchecked high flying tourists, illegal miners and estate owners, or poachers and forest mafia, all usually operate with the connivance of the local forest bureaucracy. Both the forest dwellers and sincere forest officials are inconvenient factors; the former have to be got rid of while the latter have to be rendered moot spectators.

 

Forest dwellers are today under attack from both sides. When tigers are poached, it is far easier to pick up any random tribal youth, torture them and present them to the media than it is to find the actual poacher. Harassment and physical and sexual assault are commonplace. Meanwhile, resorts, tree plantations, and real estate developers steal their land and water; government “development” projects displace them; and mining companies destroy their lands and pollute their forests and streams. On top of it all, in tiger reserves they are forced to “relocate” to barren lands and tin sheds outside of the reserves (it was in one such tin shed that an adivasi died of exposure some years ago). After seeing their homes destroyed and being torn from their lands, they are offered a pittance of compensation, if at all, or, for a handful of the displaced, “employment” as daily wage workers.

 

When the sordid state of affairs was exposed, the government decided to take a few steps to remedy the situation. The Wild Life Act was amended in 2006. The new law gave tiger reserves a legal standing and tried to provide a rational and transparent basis for their administration. First, the new law mandated that both parts of a tiger reserve – the “critical tiger habitats” (or core areas) and the “buffer zones” – had to be demarcated based on scientific studies and in consultation with local communities. Secondly, the legal rights of people are not to be interfered with; in the buffer zones, coexistence between livelihoods and conservation has to be ensured; and relocation of people out of core areas should happen only voluntarily, on the basis of scientific evidence, and after ensuring them secure livelihoods. Thirdly, a “Tiger Conservation Plan” has to be prepared that provides for tiger protection, local livelihoods, and the interests of the local communities.

 

None of these steps has actually been carried out. In November 2007, as if the law’s provisions on scientific study and popular consultation did not exist, the NTCA asked States to declare “critical tiger habitats” in all tiger reserves within ten days. Today, Valmik Thapar has openly admitted that he and other conservationists supported this move in order to “insulate these areas from the Forest Rights Act”, but apparently not from tourism. On the one hand this is nonsense – the FRA applies as much to core areas as to any other forest – and on the other hand it is an open, brazen admission that he sought a criminal violation of law. Thapar then condemns these core areas as arbitrary, unscientific and including vast areas inhabited and used by people. In 2007, all this was dispensable, law and rights be damned. Today, it is suddenly a problem.

 

Naturally, as Thapar himself clearly states, most States simply converted the entire core and buffer areas of existing tiger reserves into “critical tiger habitats” – so much for science and transparency. This has now landed these States in trouble, since they now have no forest area to declare as “buffer zones” around these critical habitats, since much of the surrounding land is under agriculture, roads, towns, etc. Instead of being a science based democratic process, relocation turned into more of the same, with forest dwellers being threatened with harassment on the one hand and offered Rs. 10 lakh “compensation packages” on the other (no mention has been made about a livelihood, despite that being the legal requirement). Now, under the heat of the Supreme Court, States have started notifying buffer zones around all critical habitats – in the same hasty and arbitrary manner in which the initial core habitats were declared.

 

Is this the way forward for tiger conservation? The government, and the NTCA in particular, has succeeded in converting the tiger bearing areas across the nation into conflict zones of competing interests, livelihood versus profits. Both tigers and tribals are the fall guys, the victims of authoritarian decision making and disrespect of laws. It is time to deal with the fundamentals and ensure respect for rights, law and accountability in tiger reserves. Only when tiger reserves are managed in a democratic and accountable manner will wildlife, forests and people flourish. Tourism too can be run by and for local communities.

 

Meanwhile, one has a suggestion for Thapar and other advocates/owners of high end commercial tourism: take your own advice. When it came to people’s rights, these very individuals were happy to have them illegally thrown out of their homes; they claimed that giving them cash and hiring them as menial workers was “rehabilitation.” Perhaps now the government should offer Rs. 10 lakh to each resort owning family and then offer to hire them as forest guards, sweepers in guest houses and dancers to entertain visitors.

 

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

 

9873657844, www.forestrightsact.com

 

 

 

Green tribunal asks environment ministry to make info on projects public


PTI | May 27, 2012, 11.23AM IST

NEW DELHI: Stressing on greater transparency, the National Green Tribunal has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to bring in public domain the relevant information regarding ventures in eco- fragile zones.”We also feel there is need to have more transparency in the EIA process and as such, whatever relevant information regarding the projects are used during the time of appraisal of the project from environmental angle by the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) and MoEF should also be made available in public domain including the executive summary of specific studies.

“Therefore, we direct the MoEF to make available relevant information other than EIA reportand report of the public hearing considered during the appraisal of the project through its website,” a bench headed by Tribunal’s Acting Chairperson A S Naidu said.

The bench, also comprising G K Pandey as an expert member, passed the directions while suspending the environmental clearance (EC) granted to the proposed 3,600 MW coal-based thermal power plant developed by IL&FS Tamil Nadu Power Company Ltd, at Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu.

The tribunal also directed MoEF to upload “from time to time the compliance status of various stipulated conditions during the grant of EC to projects so as to bring compliance status in public domain in case of all the projects granted EC under EIA Notification, 2006″.

It said the concerned project proponent must also upload the compliance status of EC conditions, including the executive summary of the specific studies done in respect of the project and update the same periodically.

Immediate Release–Green Tribunal suspends environment clearance for POSCO


POSCO Judgment of National Green Tribunal – Briefing Note

On March 30, 2012, the National Green Tribunal held in Prafulla Samantra and Anr. vs Union of India and Ors. that the 31.1.2011 final order of the Environment Ministry – permitting the POSCO project to go ahead with certain conditions – should be suspended until a full review of the project can be undertaken (by specialists with fresh terms of reference). The NGT Bench consisted of Justice C.V. Ramulu, Judicial Member, and Dr. Devendra Kumar Agarwal, Expert Member.

The tribunal has observed that, “A close scrutiny of the entire scheme … reveals that a project of this magnitude particularly in partnership with a foreign country has been dealt with casually, without there being any comprehensive scientific data regarding the possible environmental impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts un-answered.” (para 7, page 22)

It has also seriously questioned the appointment of Ms. Meena Gupta as the chairperson of the review committee which was set up by the MoEF in 2010. The judgement states that Ms. Gupta’s appointment was “definitely hit by personal / official / departmental bias, in other words, she supported the decision made by her earlier. This is in gross violation of principles of natural justice.” (para 6.9 page 22)

Key Directions of the Green Tribunal

The Tribunal has directed a “fresh review of the Project” (para 8.1) that has to look at the problems noted in this judgment as well as the majority and minority reports of the earlier Enquiry Committee (see list of dates), etc. In particular it has to look at:

Land and infrastructure: The clearance was given for a 4 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) steel plant, but the land, water etc. were allocated for a 12 MTPA project (which has been POSCO’s stated plan). The judgment directs MoEF to “consider optimizing the total land requirement for 4 MTPA steel plant proportionately.”(para 8.5) Moreover, the impacts of other infrastructure for the plant have not been assessed at all, even though they were planned for a 12 MTPA plant.

Issues that should have been done now, but which MoEF left for future studies: On several points highlighted by the review committee, the MoEF just said future studies should be done and ignored the issue. The Tribunal finds this deeply unsatisfactory, and notes the following among other issues:

Water: The Tribunal said that “We are all aware that … the drinking water is becoming scarce commodity and at every level precaution needs to be taken for protecting the drinking water supply to human habitation and preventing from utilizing such water for industrial use … alternative water source for the present project, like creating/ constructing a small barrage or augmenting any other existing source at the cost of project proponent to avoid the utilizing the water meant for Cuttack city… could be examined.” (para 7.4, page 29)

Pollution: The plant’s discharge was also left for future study by MoEF. The Tribunal says this is a “serious environmental concern.” (para 7.4, page 30)

Impact on surrounding wetlands and mangroves, as well as cyclone risk: This was left for vague future studies without any time frame or modus operandi. In addition, the Ministry has to frame a policy to ensure large projects are assessed in full for a single clearance (rather than being allowed to get piecemeal clearances for each component, as in this case) and for their full capacity at the start (paras 8.7,8.9). It also has to do a strategic assessment of the ports in Orissa. (para 8.8)

POSCO and the government sought to argue that the case cannot be filed as the original clearances were given in 2007 (and, incidentally, will expire in May/July this year). The Tribunal held that the 2011 order can still be looked at even if the 2007 ones cannot be; it therefore directed review and suspension of the 2011 order.

POSCO and/or the government can appeal this decision in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, MoEF has to constitute a review committee of subject specialists (para 8.3), define timelines for compliance with conditions (para 8.4), establish a committee for monitoring compliance with these conditions (para 8.4). No work can start on the project until the review process is over.

The case was argued by Sr. Adv. Raj Punjwani, Adv. Ritwick Dutta and Adv. Rahul Choudhary for the petitioners.

Key Events

  • June 2005: POSCO, Orissa government sign MoU for 12 million tonne steel plant, private port and captive iron ore mines. Protests begin in steel plant area and area is cordoned off by peaceful protesters.

  • May 2007: Environmental clearance for port granted by Environment Ministry, then under A. Raja.

  • July 2007: Environmental clearance for plant granted by Environment Ministry, then under PM. Secretary is Meena Gupta. Protests continue in the face of violent attacks and numerous arrests.

  • December 2009: Forest clearance granted for taking over forest land by Environment Ministry, then under Jairam Ramesh.

  • August 2010: Forest clearance suspended following complaints of violations of law, and Enquiry Committee constituted under Meena Gupta.

  • October 2010: Three member majority of enquiry committee gives report saying environmental and forest clearances illegal. Meena Gupta dissents, holds clearances legal but recommends additional study and time to ensure compliance.

  • January 31, 2011: Environment Ministry disregards both majority and minority reports, upholds environment and forest clearances, while prescribing some additional conditions (mostly consisting of additional studies to be done in future).

  • June 2011: Prafulla Samantray challenges final order in National Green Tribunal.

  • March 31, 2012: Green Tribunal judgment.

For further information:

Prafulla Samantray, activist and petitioner in this case, 09437259005

Prashant Paikray, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, 09437571547

Kanchi Kohli, activist, 9811903112, kanchikohli@gmail.com

Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, 9873657844, shankargopal@myfastmail.com