Gram Sabha is supreme but only on paper!
The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, the 73rd amendment and the landmark PESA and Forest Rights Act (FRA) have progressively acknowledged the rights, and special powers of the Gram Sabha in deciding developmental projects as well as playing a role in protecting the ecology and forests.
But a clutch of clever exemptions in recent months are ensuring that centralised authorities take away the same powers through the back door, without routing these rollbacks to any debate from below. Right now the exemptions are meant for critical public utilities in districts witnessing state-Maoist conflict and more recently infrastructure projects like “roads, canals, transmission lines and pipelines” and the ominous “etc”.
But industry lobbies are welcoming the exclusion of the gram sabhas from the decision-making process and are already talking about seeking similar exemptions in other sectors. All this even while the existing provisions of the Forest Right Act, namely clearance by gram sabhas to projects that seek to divert forest land, are “being honoured in the breach”, in the words of Minister for Panchayati Raj, V Kishore Chandra Deo. In particular, the MoEF has never rejected a project because of the lack of Gram Sabha consent, with only one exception, according to a statement by Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of 150 mass organisations. (See link: http://www.forestrightsact.com/statements-and-news/132-fin
We also know that the rate of environmental clearances for dam projects is 100 per cent in India, despite the clamour that the environment clearances pose a roadblock to development! (See link: http://www.im4change.org/news-alert/born-to-clear-100-appr
From ‘tribal versus tiger’ to ‘Gram Sabha versus mining interests’ India’s many debates about tribal rights seem to end up with the same result – the bypassing of gram sabha powers that were meant to ensure democratic and inclusive development.
The Inclusive Media team has put together the URLs of the most relevant information/ studies on the subject. There are also statements/ views from the government departments and the peoples' movements. Please go through them for a larger picture of what ails tribal India.
Mandating gram sabha clearances, and how tooperationalize this:
Order dated 3 Aug,2009-Diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes under the Forest(Conservation) Act, 1980-ensuring compliance of the Schedules tribes and OtherTraditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006
Frequently AskedQuestions on Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers(Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA)
A set of exemptions in recent months:
Guidelines dated 5February, 2013 Diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes under theForest (Conservation) Act, 1980,
Guidelines dated 1Feb, 2013 Diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes under the Forest(Conservation) Act, 1980,
List of road projectspending for Environment Clearance with MoEF as on 4 Feb, 2013
State-wise details ofHydroelectric projects pending for Environment Clearance
Pending Thermal powerprojects for Environment Clearance as on 31 January, 2013
Statement indicatingdetails of proposals seeking prior approval of Central Government under theForest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for diversion of forest land for non-forestpurpose pending before the MoEF as 30 Jan, 2013
List of pending ECand FC proposals as per the list of Ministry of Coal
Report of theCommittee to formulate objective parameters for identification of Inviolate ForestArea, July, 2012,
Media links on ForestRights Act:
Development minusgreen shoots-TR Shankar Raman and MD Madhusudan, The Hindu, 13 February, 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/development-minus-gr
Forestland diversionfor roads, railway lines made easy-Kumar Sambhav S, Down to Earth, 6 February,2013, http://www.im4change.org/rural-news-update/forestland-dive
Tribal Affairsministry, MoEF seek more time on diversion of forest land- Urmi A Goswami, TheEconomic Times, 23 January, 2013,
Environment ministryeases clearance norms for highway projects -Dipak Kumar Dash, The Times ofIndia, 22 December, 2012,
Forest clearancesunder national green tribunal ambit -Nitin Sethi, The Times of India, 12November, 2012,
For more on conflict between Forest Conservation Act 1980and Forest Rights Act, 2006, please check:
Some Insights intothe Forests Rights Act (FRA) by Praveen Bhargav
Forest Rights Act:Combining Conservation with Human Development by Dr. DK Giri, http://www.cfc2010.org/papers/session13/giri_s13.pdf
Decentralizing ForestManagement: Pretense or Reality? (In the context of Forest Rights Act in India)-Rucha Ghate (2009),
India's Forest RightsAct of 2006: Illusion or solution? http://www.aitpn.org/IRQ/vol-I/issues-2-3/story03.htm
India’s Forest RightsAct -The anatomy of a necessary but not sufficient institutional reform-MadhuSarin and Oliver Springate-Baginski (2010),