Delhi slams official attitude to forest act
- Approach bureaucratic, says joint report
Guwahati, Dec. 10: The joint committee of ministry of environment and forests and ministry of tribal affairs has scathingly criticised the official attitude of Assam towards the Forest Rights Act.
“As a whole, the official attitude towards Forest Rights Act and its implementation is highly bureaucratic and lacks serious engagement. The strong resistance on the part of the forest department against the act was visible everywhere. The department misinterpreted the provisions of the act,” the report stated.
The report was made public today. It summarises the enquiries and observations recorded during field visits along with public consultations and meetings with field officials.
The report said the department misinterpreted the provisions of the act. It said the general attitude amongst the majority of the forest officials was to interpret that the rural population was historically not dependent on forests. The report quoted the chief secretary of Assam saying, “If the act is to be implemented, there will be no forest coverage left.”
He admitted that the district magistrates of various districts have a disparity in understanding the act. The chief secretary also informed that the act could not be implemented in the Sixth Schedule Areas, which would require an amendment to its rule.
The Assam government has accordingly written to the Centre to amend rules and is still awaiting a response.
The chief secretary carefully articulated the views of the state government on the nature of claimants and categorically reiterated, “we are willing to give rights to tribals but not to non-tribals” as most of them are encroachers.
It said a large number of petitions was either pending or rejected. In the state, almost 74 per cent of the applications are in the “in pending” category.
This is highly disappointing given that the implementation of forest rights has been active since 2008.
Officials belonging to forest and social welfare departments are making brief enquiries to make such critical decisions. The officials have not attempted to probe deeper for crucial evidences needed for the effective implementation of the act.
The report said there has been widespread hostility among the conservationists on the future implications of the Forest Rights Act. “The primary question that they have been raising is not unique to the state. The conservation groups have registered their concerns about the rapid deforestation in selected pockets of forests. They have also put forward the argument that settlement of people inside the protected areas will lead to further fragmentation of landscape of the these areas.” Examples were cited from Manas National Park of the crucial damages to habitat because of settlements inside the park.
The report said there has been rampant violation of procedures as laid down in the act like boundaries of land not being shown in the certificates, over-night completion of procedures and others.