The Indian National Congress and the Union government on Sunday, 10 July engaged in a spar on Twitter over allegations of the Centre diluting the Forest Rights Act with the introduction of latest forest conservation rules.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to microblogging site Twitter and tweeted, “Modi-Mitr’ Sarkar at its crony best! For ‘ease of snatching’ forest land, BJP govt has come up with new FC Rules, 2022 diluting UPA's Forest Rights Act, 2006. Congress stands strongly with our Adivasi brothers & sisters in their fight to protect Jal, Jungle and Zameen."
The recently notified Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022 have been the subject of intense discussion with the Opposition alleging that the amended rules will disempower crores of Adivasis, and other inhabitants of forests.
The government has claimed that the new rules “are reformative with an objective to streamline the process of approvals under the Act, and enable the parallel processing under other Acts and Rules.”
Jairam Ramesh and Bhupender Hooda Spar on Twitter
Taking his criticism to Twitter, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh claimed that the new rules do not mention the earlier requirement of attainting a gram sabha NOC before diverting forest land for a project. He added that these rules also allow forest rules to be settled after the final approval is granted by the centre.
In 2009, Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh introduced a rule that there would be no consideration provided for diversion of forests unless the rights under the FRA, 2006 were settled. These were later included in the Forest Conservation Rules in 2015 under the Act.
In his statement, Ramesh said:
“Now, in a new set of Rules issued very recently, the Modi Government has allowed for forest rights to be settled after final approval for forest clearances has been granted by the Central Government. Obviously, this has been done in the name of ‘ease of doing business’ for a chosen few. But it will end the ‘ease of living’ for the vast many. Once forest clearance is granted, everything else becomes a mere formality and almost inevitably, no claims will be recognised and settled.”Jairam Ramesh
Shortly, Union Environment and Forests Minister Bhupender Yadav posted on Twitter that the notified rules are not inconsistent with the Forest (Conservation) Act, whose compliance can be ensured “subsequently.”
Though Yadav in his detailed note, posted in response to Ramesh's tweets and allegations, clarified all the points and emphasised that no rule or provision of any act is being diluted and the process has been streamlined for reducing the timelines for arrival at the final decision, Ramesh asked him not to "evade main issue" and questioned whether his government was not making the 'Gram Sabha' irrelevant.
"You may not have been briefed properly. Your new Rules go against the 2015 note of the ministry of tribal affairs...," Ramesh tweeted.
As Yadav responded and said, "There is no dilution of provisions of FRA as being incorrectly interpreted," Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda also entered the discussion, calling the Congress’ allegations "frivolous and baseless," aimed at "misleading the nation on tribal matters at a time when the ruling NDA has nominated a tribal woman as the Presidential candidate."
"The task of granting compensation under the FRA 2006 rests with the states and MoTA regularly reviews the implementation of the Act with the States at the level of Chief Secretaries," Munda tweeted.
‘An Attack on the Rights of Adivasi Swaraj’: Priyanka Gandhi
Congress Leader Priyanka Gandhi stated in her tweet that the Forest Rights Act granted the tribals their rights and gave importance to the voice of Gram Sabha and Adivasi Swaraj.
However, the new rules of the Forest Conservation Act are an attack on the rights of Adivasi Swaraj-Gram Sabha, she said.
"There is pretence in Mr Modi's claim of tribal interest," she wrote in her tweet.
Brinda Karat Writes to Yadav
Meanwhile, Brinda Karat wrote to Yadav on the new amended rules and said, "The change in Rules are an opaque process without prior consultation or discussion with those who are affected. The procedure of Parliamentary approval is reduced to a mere formality."
Outlining her criticism in four points, Karat also said, "Given the consequences which will surely arise once these Rules are implemented, the Government should put them in abeyance till there is a public discussion and opinions elicited from all those sections likely to be affected."