ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Forest Rights

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The editorial “Insidious Infringement of Forest Rights” (EPW, 13 April 2019) has raised critical questions about the timing and the proposed hegemonic amendments to the Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927. This needs to be seen as a follow up of the Supreme Court’s order on 13 February 2019 asking for eviction of more than 10 lakh people whose claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, were rejected. The editorial has brought out the inherent contradictions within the proposed amendments and their negation of the FRA and the principle of subsidiarity which are core components of federal and decentralised governance. 

However, the editorial has missed some of the crucial aspects. First, the process to amend the IFA has been shrouded in secrecy. Further, bringing such an exhaustive set of amendments when Parliament is not in session clearly indicates the abdication of the responsibilities by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the government. Why was the same not put forward in the last session of ­Parliament, when the draft was ready in 2018? All this has to be understood as capitalisation of forestry and extending monopoly of power over the forest and other natural resources, especially mining in the Indian context. 

From the draft it seems that the proposed amendments were aimed to provide state legitimacy to the Supreme Court’s order. This can be substantiated by looking at the deadline dates given to the state governments to complete the consultation process on the proposed amendments. It must be noted that, the Supreme Court in its February order listed the matter hearing on 24 July 2019. In order to enable this, the states were asked to complete the consultation process by 7 June 2019. A critical look at these details conveys that the proposed amendments are initiated to retain the court’s order and to carry out the evictions on the basis of this act. 

This systemic alienation, or “insidious infringement” as the editorial rightly terms it, may potentially lead to insurrection in the vast forested areas. Now the ball is in respective state governments’ court; it needs to be seen how many state governments resist the union ministry’s takeover of legislative and executive powers to preserve and protect the fundamental governance structure of the Constitution. The larger question is who is going to represent the concerns and voices of the Adivasis and other forest dwelling communities, be it to defend them in the Supreme Court or to resist the union government in passing these contesting amendments to the IFA.

Nayakara Veeresha

Bengaluru

Updated On : 6th May, 2019

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