Continued illegal diversion of forest land in violation of applicable statutes, in particular Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act
Dr. Manmohan Singh Prime Minister of India and Minister for Environment and Forests Government of India
Sub:- Continued illegal diversion of forest land in violation of applicable statutes, in particular Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act
We are writing to you to express our deep concern at the repeated violation of the law by the Ministry of Environment and Forests when diverting forest land for non-forest use under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The Ministry's failure to respect, acknowledge and abide by the statutory requirements gives rise to concern that it is seeking to allow diversion at all costs, rather than fulfilling its constitutional duty and mandate.
Diversion of forest lands for industrial, commercial and other projects has been increasing rapidly over the past decade; the annual rate of diversion between 2002 and 2008 was 50% higher than that between 1980 and 2002. The acceleration in diversion reflects increased pressure from industry, especially mining companies, for access to minerals and forest land. Forty five mining projects have been given in principle or final clearance in just October and November 2008, and 74 more are pending. Many of India's protected areas, wildlife corridors and community forests have been greatly harmed by forest diversion for extremely destructive activities. Such forest destruction is now a serious threat to forests, wildlife and to the livelihoods of tribals and forest dwellers in India.
On January 1st, 2008, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was brought into force. Since this law seeks to protect the traditional rights of forest dwellers, it has a direct bearing on questions of forest diversion. In particular there are at least two aspects of this law that would directly affect the legality of forest diversion:
* Under section 4(5), no forest dweller can be removed from his or her lands until recognition of rights is complete under the Act. Further forest lands on which other rights – such as to minor forest produce – are exercised can also not be diverted until recognition is complete. As such, from January 1st onwards, no lands which are being cultivated by forest dwellers or which are being used for other rights can be diverted until recognition of rights is complete. * Under sections 3(1)(i) and 5 of the Act, forest dwelling communities are empowered to also protect and conserve forests. Section 3(1)(e) also gives Primitive Tribal Groups and pre-agricultural communities a right to their habitat. Forests where communities have such rights, or where they have declared their intent to protect, clearly cannot be diverted without the consent of the gram sabha of the concerned community – which is a statutory authority under the Act.
Despite this, the Ministry has continued with forest diversion for large projects in direct violation of these statutory requirements, as the above statistics show. Even in areas where forest dwelling communities have asserted their rights and invoked the Forest Rights Act – such as the Niyamgiri hills, where Vedanta plans bauxite mining, or the POSCO steel plant project – the Ministry has continued to support diversion before the Supreme Court.
We call upon you to immediately halt such illegal actions by the Ministry and to ensure that the forest diversion process is undertaken in compliance with the letter and spirit of applicable laws. Rampant diversion of forest land is not in the interests of wildlife, forest dwellers or the nation.
On behalf of the Convening Collective Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Replying to this email will send an e-mail to 11000+ members of Jharkhand Forum