On December 7th, the Minister for Tribal Affairs sent a second letter to the Minister for Environment and Forests.  He reiterated that, under the Forest Rights Act, no forest land can be taken for any project without the consent of the affected people.  We are circulating this letter because it again is a useful and clear statement of what both law and justice require.

In this context he particularly asks the Environment Ministry to strictly implement its own order of August 3rd, 2009,  which says that no forest land can be diverted until 1) the gram sabhas (village assemblies) of the affected area pass resoltuions consenting to it; and 2) the same gram sabhas issue certificates saying that the FRA has been fully implemented.  You can find a copy of the order and some other details here.

He also again makes the point that it is completely misconceived to say that this will “delay” decisions.  He says:

” Some may argue that this will delay development projects. This logic does not appear correct. In fact it is ignoring and violating the rights of forest dwellers that will lead to delays, litigation and conflict, aside from injustice. As the Joint Parliamentary Committee (of which I was chair) said in regard to the Forest Rights Bill, forest dwellers should be part of the planning and decision making process and there is no reason to believe they will arbitrarily oppose initiatives in the public interest. We have only to witness the large number of projects in this country that are today stalled by protests and court cases to understand that “short cuts” benefit no one, in addition to being illegal. The Forest Rights Act is not “anti-development” – it is merely a measure to ensure that initiatives are taken in a democratic and transparent manner that actually benefits the people.”

He also makes a detailed legal argument for this, saying that the 2009 MoEF order only states what the FRA anyway requires.  The law is not only about recognising people’s rights but also about empowering them to manage forests.

A scanned copy of the letter is attached and is available for download from here.  A transcript and copy of the Minister’s first letter is available here.