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Shri Narendra Modi

Prime Minister of India

New Delhi 110 001

Dated the 12th August 2015

Sub: State and Central agencies conniving in undermining rights of tribals and other forest dwellers

Dear Shri Modi-ji,

As you would be aware, in 2006 Parliament unanimously passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act to protect the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers. Under this law the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal agency for forest rights, while the Environment Ministry is obligated to ensure respect and compliance with this law by forest officials. We are dismayed that in the last three months several BJP-ruled state governments have been attempting to undercut the key provisions of this historic law, while receiving the support of powerful Ministers in your Cabinet.

In particular:

  • The Maharashtra government has been implementing the Maharashtra Village Forest Rules, 2014, despite the fact that these illegally attempt to block the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers over non-timber forest produce – a vital part of their income. This is occurring despite repeated letters from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs that these are illegal. Despite this criminal violation of tribal rights, senior Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Nitin Gadkari have been supporting the Maharashtra government’s continued violation of rights.
  • On June 4th, the Madhya Pradesh government issued new village and protected forest Rules that are even more grossly illegal than the Maharashtra rules. They reduce forest dwellers to mere collectors, force them to comply with plans of the Forest Department, and indirectly permit private companies to be involved in forest management. No response has been forthcoming from the Central government in this regard.
  • On July 27th, the State government of Chhattisgarh issued a letter to all District Collectors directing them to obtain certificates from gram sabhas that implementation of the Forest Rights Act is “complete” by August 15th. Since very few community forest rights have been recognised in the State, this is clearly illegal and an attempt to preempt proper implementation of the Act. No response has been forthcoming.
  • The Environment Ministry is proposing to pass the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill in Parliament, notwithstanding the fact that an almost identical bill was unanimously rejected in 2008 by the Standing Committee on grounds, among others, that it would violate the rights of forest dwellers. The Bill makes no reference to forest rights at all and will encourage the takeover of large areas of common land in the name of “compensatory afforestation” by the Forest Department.

All of this comes in the wake of continuous steps by the Environment Ministry to bypass the Forest Rights Act, when diverting forest land to corporate and industrial projects.

In November 2014, Secretary of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs Shri Hrushikesh Panda had written that “recent announcements… have conveyed a message that the Government is against fair implementation of the Forest Rights Act.” We call upon you to correct such an impression by ensuring that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs acts immediately to halt these illegalities and that the Environment Ministry, rather than seeking to dilute the law, instructs forest officials to comply with it and to cease attempting to sabotage it.

In the above context we aupon your good office to intervene into the matter at the earliest so that the noble objective of this historic law is protected and no further injustice is committed against the tribal population of this country, the most under privileged section of the society.

With warm regards,

C N Jayadevan, CPI
Mohammed Salim, CPI(M)
P. Karunakaran, CPI(M)
Biren Singh Engti, Congress
Dr. S. Sampath, CPI(M)
Ninong Ering, Congress
Joice George, Independent
PK Biju CPI(M)
Geetha Kothapalli, YSR Cong
Dasrath Tirkey, TMC
MB Rajesh, CPIM
Badarudozza Khan CPIM
Tariq Anwar, NCP
Dr. Dharam Vira Gandhi, AAP
Bhagwant Mann AAP
Dharmendra Yadav SP
Kavita Kalvakuntla, TRS
Kaushalendra Kumar JD(U)
PK Seemathi, CPI(M)
Sankar Prasad Dutta CPI(M)
Jitendra Chaudhury CPI(M)

Encl: The GOs issued by the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments.