Forest Advisory Committee Sits to Preside Over A Giant Scam
While everyone focuses on coal, a committee in the MoEF in Delhi is sitting to preside over another scam.
Why Only Loot the Exchequer When You Can Loot the Poor?
While the media and the government convulse themselves over the coal scam, another official committee is quietly going ahead with a scam of its own. Today and tomorrow the Forest Advisory Committee is meeting in Delhi, at the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
In all the media hype over the coal scam, this linked and much bigger scam has quietly escaped notice. Coal miners and their counterparts in other industries have not only benefited from corrupt allocation of mines - they have been grabbing land, water and forests that do not belong to them for free, stealing them from lakhs of people who own them - without even providing compensation - by taking advantage of the forest diversion process. In the coal scam the coal ministry handed out the largesse on the basis of a closed door committee. In this case, it's the Environment Ministry that does so, and that is still doing so. In its last meeting on August 16th and 17th, the FAC recommended clearance for at least four additional projects that have not complied with the law (the list is at the end of this statement) - three are coal mines and one is a thermal power plant.
The only difference with the coal allocation scam in this case, it's not the government alone that has lost; it's the most oppressed and marginalised of Indians, the forest dwellers. Perhaps that is why - almost five years after this became a crime - no one, leave alone the concerned officials, is particularly bothered.
The problem, in fact, springs from terms like "coal block" in the first place. "Coal blocks" are not storehouses of coal; they are pieces of land, usually covered with forest or inhabited by forest dwellers. But the government, and indeed most of its critics, treat this land like it can be given to the highest bidder - whether under or over the table. But this is simply illegal.
Under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, forest dwellers have rights over individual and community lands, minor forest produce, water bodies, grazing areas, and so on. They also have the legal right and power to protect and manage forests. Despite this being a clear provision of law, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has been granting "forest clearance" (i.e., permission for hand over of forest land) to hundreds of projects as if people's rights don't exist. These people are simply being driven from their lands and forests like animals without any process at all. Robbery of resources in this manner has benefited hundreds of private companies and government agencies, relieving them of the need to respect, rehabilitate and compensate tens of thousands (if not lakhs) of families of forest dwellers. Between Jan 2008 and August 2011, 1,82,389 hectares of forest land was diverted by the Ministry for projects - and yet, in July 2011, the Central Ministry a reporter that it has no records as to whether people's rights were respected or not. The affected communities have been left to suffer, starve and often die on their own.
All of this continues despite an order from the Environment Ministry, in July 2009, stating that no forest land can be "diverted" without the consent of the concerned gram sabhas (village assemblies) and a certificate from them. In May and June of this year the Ministry of Tribal Affairs sent both letters and guidelines to State governments saying that "Large numbers of [forest dwellers] have been illegally displaced from forest land without respect for their rights." In April this year - almost three years after it was given orders -, the Forest Advisory Committee itself said that "No project proposal will be considered complete ... [without meeting the] terms of the aforesaid enactment of 2006 [the Forest Rights Act]. These documents are to be given in full and complete form at Stage I of the process of consideration and clearance and need to be in accordance with the said circular in all respects."
Yet the very same committee has now decided to throw the law to the winds again. The Ministry practically always follows the Committee's recommendations. Since January 1, 2008, when the FRA came into force, this crime has been ravaging the forests of the country. Unlike the coal scam, there can be neither debate about nor defence of this robbery - for it is in direct violation of the law. The question is, is this issue going to draw enough attention now to get the government to stop behaving like a marauding criminal? Or are we going to have to wait another decade for the CAG to wake up, and wake everyone else up, to this scam?
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
PROJECTS RECOMMENDED FOR FOREST LAND AND RESOURCES WITHOUT ANY RESPECT FOR RIGHTS
(as per minutes of Forest Advisory Committee meeting, August 16th and 17th, 2012; Committee did not seek or refer to consent of gram sabhas and certificates from gram sabhas, as required under FRA / 2009 Ministry circular for diversion of forest land, but treated land as if people have no rights on it)
151.762 ha of forest land - LARA Super Thermal Power Plant of 5x800 MW capacity (Total 4000 MW) of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh (File No.8-21/2012)
766.393 ha of forest land - Talaipallu Coal Mining Project and construction of Railway Line by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in Raigarh and Dharmajaigarh Forest Divisions, Chhattisgarh (File No.8-18/2012)
139.00 ha of forest land - Jitpur Open Cast Coal Mining project, for M/s Jindal Steel & Power Limited in Godda Forest Division in Godda district of Jharkhand (File No.8-24/2010)
290.399 ha of forest land - for coal mining by M/s D.B Power Limited in Dharamjaigarh Forest Division, Raigarh District, Chhattisgarh (File.8-48/2012)