New Delhi: A Bill to utilise funds for compensatory afforestation came under criticism in Rajya Sabha today with former Minister and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh claiming that it does not empower the forest dwellers, tribals, and gram sabhas.
As the House took up for discussion the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAMPA) Bill which could pave the way for funds unto the tune of Rs 42,000 crore to be unlocked, Ramesh said while he supports the important legislation, he also has a "problem" with it.
"My problem with the Bill is that it ignores the Forest Rights Act of 2006," Ramesh said.
The former Environment and Forests Minister said that in its present form, the legislation introduced by the BJP-led government empowers state governments and forest departments but "does not empower forest dwellers, tribals or gram sabhas."
Referring to Environment and Forests Minister Anil Dave who recently took over the ministry, Ramesh said that when the key Bill is passed, his innings would have started with a six and there would be newspaper headlines as well.
Appealing to different political parties, Ramesh proposed an amendment suggesting that CAMPA funds should be used only in consonance with the implementation of Forest Rights Act.
"It should be ensured that, without the permission of gram sabhas, no expenditure is allowed in the CAMPA funds," he said.
Ramesh claimed that the role of gram sabha was quite important as per the Forest Rights Act, which was passed with the support of parties across the political spectrum.
Ramesh also claimed that in some states which had BJP-led governments, the rights of forest dwellers were being taken away.
Referring to Sarguja district of Chhatisgarh, Ramesh said that according to decisions of the state government, the community rights of a village had been cancelled and an entity had been given rights to extract coal.
He also mentioned a "gazette notification" of the Maharashtra government which he said allowed the forest departments to take away forest rights of communities.
The Congress leader claimed that wherever BJP governments are in power, such community rights suffer.
Ramesh said that even the Union Environment forest ministry has paved the way for private participation in forests through PPP. On one hand, it is said PPP has failed, on other, they are being allowed in forests, he said.
The Congress leader also said that the committees suggested under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund bill are weighted in favour of bureaucrats. He also said that the focus of these funds should be the regeneration of natural forests.
Ramesh also said the Tribal Affairs minister should have been present during the discussion.
In his speech, Ramesh also said that under the Forest Rights Act, thousands of individual and community titles were cleared though he expressed dissatisfaction saying there was also a high rate of rejection of such applications.
The discussion on the bill would continue on Thursday
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2016 22:26 PM