The ministry has been under pressure from Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Nitin Gadkari not to object to Maharashtra’s rules that violate Forest Rights Act
The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) is showing no sign of backtracking on its stand against Maharashtra’s Village Forests Rules in spite of pressure from other ministries. The ministry has written to the Maharashtra government to withdraw its Village Forests Rules 2014  as it is in direct conflict with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.
Maharashtra’s forest department had, earlier this year, issued the rules, which sought to make communities declare forests under their jurisdictions as “village forests”, which would then be managed by communities in collaboration with the forest department. The management committees formed to look after such forests would have a forest officer as the secretary and the overall authority to take decisions on the management of such forests would lie with the forest department according to the rules . This effectively takes away the powers vested in people by FRA to manage their own forests.
According to the letter by MoTA, the Village Forests Rules 2014 encroach upon and are irreconcilable with the provisions of FRA, which is a Central legislation. It points out that the state has not obtained the consent of President, and that the rules are, therefore, contrary to the mandate of Article 254 of the Indian Constitution.
According to Article 254, if a Central legislation already occupies the field covered by a particular subject in the concurrent list, no legislation can be passed regarding the said subject by a State legislature which is repugnant to the provisions of Central legislation, the only exception is when such State legislation has received the consideration and assent of the President of India.
MoTA has asked the state government to withdraw the rules. Earlier rural development minister, Nitin Gadkari, and minister of state for environment, Prakash Jawdekar, had asked tribal affairs minister, Jual Oram, to withdraw the objections to the Maharashtra government notification on the management of forests.
The minister said the rules framed by the state government were “prima facie in violation” of FRA and would violate the legal rights on property of individuals.
Both Gadkari and Javdekar had questioned MoTA’s interference and said that the state government had drafted the rules under the Indian Forests Act 1927 and that the right to administer the Act came under the ambit of the environment ministry.
In response, Oram had said that it was only to safeguard the Forest Rights Act, which falls under it that the tribal affairs ministry had intervened.
Meanwhile, activists and forest rights advocates see this as a positive step by MoTA. “It will safeguard the rights of tribal people,” said Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, a veteran forest rights activist.
However, the state government is firm about not withdrawing the rules. “The rule is not for area that come under Panchayat Extention to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, and it’s only when village people come forward that the collaboration takes place,” said A K Saxena, principal chief conservator of forests.