A Parliamentary panel has raised objection at the Union Environment Ministry's move of drafting the National Forest policy 2018 without consulting the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry which is mandatory as per the Government of India (Allocation of Business Rules, 1961).
In fact, the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry has already rejected the Draft National Forest Policy (DNFP) alleging that it disregards the role of tribals in conservation efforts and that it does not reflect the paradigm shift in forest governance, management and conservation by the enactment of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 (PESA).
Furthermore, the Tribal Affairs Ministry during its submission before the Parliamentary panel led by Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma said that the proposed policy goes against the spirit of amendment made in GoI (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 on March, 17th 2006 whereby all matters relating to the rights of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes on forest lands has to be brought under its purview.
The tribal and green activists too have slammed the Environment Ministry for ignoring the rights of tribals in its DNFP, which the activists have alleged "shift away from the goals laid down in National Forest Policy 1988 and prioritize production forestry." They have also alleged that the policy proposes the idea of public private partnership in forest sector to divert the forest lands to the private players; it is also silent on the issue of usage of CAMPA funds; etc.
The panel in its report 'status of forests in India' had asked "whether the steps envisaged in the draft National Forest Policy, 2018 by the Environment Ministry in the direction of Essential Principles of Forest Management and Strategy are adequate enough to safeguard the ecological and livelihood security of our people and in contributing towards achieving the national goal and ecological security of the country."
The Committee also questioned the move commenting that "the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on its own, should not have taken this initiative to bring about this policy or propose a policy without the Ministry of Tribal Affairs being fully in agreement. This is very clear in the Allocation of Business Rules, 1961."
The Committee further said in its report tabled in Parliament recently that, "actually no stakeholders' consultations had been held while preparing this draft policy. The Committee also observed that clear cut definition of forest should be included in the Draft Policy and there must be synergy with Forest Rights Act, 2006 and other relevant Acts which affect the tribals and other forest dwellers predominantly dependent for their livelihood on the forests," said the report.
Defending the provisions in the DNFP 2018, however, the Director-General (Forest) and Special Secretary, said that it aims to safeguard the ecological and livelihood security of the people, of the present and future generations as well increasing tree cover outside forest among other benefits.
However, the NGOs in the sector were not convinced.
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & Environment (ATREE) submitted before the panel that unlike the Forest Policy of 1988 that clearly stated that "ecological balance was primary but local needs were to be given priority over industrial requirements, the DNFP 2018 prioritize production forestry."
Another NGO, Environment Support Group suggested that the policy has to be made jointly by the Environment and Tribal Affairs Ministries as required under Allocation of Business Rules 1961 and also keeping the synergy between the proposed policy and the Forest Right Act 2006.
Similarly, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) submitted before the Committee that ecological security of the nation, sustenance and livelihood needs of the people living in and around forest have the first right on forest and any economic derivative is subordinate to these objectives while the WWF-India stressed the need to strengthen the implementation of legal and policy instruments.
The parliamentary panel has now asked the Environment Ministry to keep in loop the Tribal Affairs Ministry and other stakeholders such as NGOs and local bodies before giving it a final shape. It has also sought adequate safeguards for the protection of vulnerable forest communities such as tribals and other communities who are dependent on the forest for their sustenance and survival.