Prosecute Forest Officials and FAC or Resign, Organisations Tell Enviroment Minister
Organisations demand prosecution of forest officials for illegal grabbing of forests
The following letter was sent to the Minister of State for Environment and Forests today by a number of forest dwellers' and environmentalist organisations to the Environment Minister.
They point out that these officials are robbing the country's poorest people by consistently grabbing forest land for projects. In two cases, the current Forest Advisory Committee recorded that a project had not cmoplied with the law - and recommended it anyway. In most cases the law is ignored entirely. The signatories point out that these are criminal offences under the FRA and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State (I/C) for Environment and Forests
Paryavaran Bhavan, New Delhi
Sub: End the forest land scam; reconstitute Forest Advisory Committee and prosecute officials responsible for violation of rights
In 2006 Parliament unanimously passed the Forest Rights Act. The new law sought to protect forest dwellers' rights and to also recognise their authority and right to protect and manage forests. Yet five years later your Ministry continues to brazenly abet the daylight robbery of people's forests and resources. Lakhs of pepole have lost their homes and livelihoods to this robbery. We call upon you to take action, including prosecution, against the responsible officials or to resign if you are unable to do so.
In particular the members of the Forest Advisory Committee - who are supposed to examine whether a project can and should receive forest land - continue to recommend projects for diversion of forest land without any regard for the law. Most recently they have recorded in their minutes that projects that have not complied with the Forest Rights Act should be given clearance nevertheless. Your Ministry continues to grant final clearance to such projects as well. Such actions are criminal offences under section 7 of the Forest Rights Act and section 13(d)(iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In particular the FAC decided twice, on April 1, 2012 and November 26, 2012, that it should comply with the law, recorded the decision in its minutes, and has repeatedly proceeded to brazenly violate its own decision (as well as the law) in subsequent meetings. If this is not corrupt conduct, what is?
Under the Forest Rights Act, the FAC and your Ministry's officials are only allowed to approve / recommend any project after it:
first, receives certificates from the concerned gram sabhas (village assemblies) that the implementation of the Forest Rights Act is complete; and
second, that the concerned gram sabhas give their informed consent to the diversion of forest land.
In addition to the clear requirements of the law, the following orders and statements of your Ministry and government clearly state that this is required:
Order dated 03.08.2009 of the Environment Ministry to all State governments.
Guidelines of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on the Forest Rights Act to all State governments.
Letter of the Minister of Tribal Affairs to you on November 19th, 2012.
Letter of the Minister of Tribal Affairs to you on December 7th, 2012.
Decision of the Forest Advisory Committee of April 1, 2012.
Decision of the Forest Advisory Committee of November 26, 2012.
Yet, despite all this, in its last meeting on December 21 and 22nd the FAC recommended the take over of fully 4,600 hectares of land for various government and private projects without recording a single one to be compliant with the Forest Rights Act. Moreover, in two projects - both by Mahanadi Coalfields in Orissa - the committee recorded that the 2009 order of the Ministry had not been complied with, and went on to recommend the project for clearance anyway.
We recall the 2G scam, in which the violations of law were less brazen and blatant, and wonder if you and your government will wait again for a CAG report to expose your criminal misconduct a decade later before acting to stop this terrible brutality against our country's most marginalised people. We reiterate our call to you to initiate criminal prosecution immediately or to resign if you are unable to do so.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Purnima Upadhyay, KHOJ, Dist Amravati, Maharashtra
Roma, NFFPFW / Human Rights Law Centre, Robersganj, UP
Tilottama Sarkar, Samrakshan Trust, M.P.
All India Forum for Forest Movements (AIFFM)
Sharad Lele, Bangalore
Kanchi Kohli, Independent Researcher, New Delhi
Sumi Krishna, Bangalore
Kashtakari Sanghatna, Thane, Maharashtra
Kamgaar Va Majur Sangh, Maharashtra
Adivasi Jungal Janjeevan Andolan, Dadra and Nagar Haveli