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Don’t confer forest rights to tribals in critical tiger habitats: NTCA

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-04-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

India’s nodal tiger authority has asked tiger range states not to confer forest rights to any tribal or forest dwelling communities in critical tiger habitats.

The decision has come in for criticism from senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat, who called it “illegal” and wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to “ensure speedy withdrawal of this illegal order”.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), India’s nodal body for protection and conservation of tigers, wrote to all tiger range states on 28 March on the issue of ‘Conferring rights under the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006 in critical tiger habitats’.

“In absence (of) guidelines for notification of critical wildlife habitats, no rights shall be conferred in Critical Tiger Habitats which is duly notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972,” said the NTCA letter to all 17 tiger range states.

Forest Rights Act 2006 ensures that forest dwellers, including scheduled tribes, get their rights over forest land and non-timber forest produce.

Brinda Karat in her letter alleged that it is an illegal order and against the provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006. She said that the NTCA order, which has wide ranging consequences, has not been put up on the website of the environment ministry and is a surreptitious move behind the backs of those who will be affected.

Expressing disappointment at the NTCA’s which she said undermines the legal provisions for the protection of forest dwelling tribal communities and other forest dwellers, Karat in her letter to Modi highlighted that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the NCTA have no jurisdiction over the implementation of FRA and thus have no right to issue such a circular.

“Under the Forest Rights Act, where the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers are defined, it is stated that these rights are applicable to all forest areas. There are no exceptions. The said order on the other hand illegally wants to make an exception of tribal rights in areas which are designated as critical tiger habitats,” Karat emphasised.

She even called the NTCA order a “denial of rights” to tribals and other forest dwellers.

“In sum, the NTCA’s order is grossly illegal. Any officer of the State or Central government who obstructs the recognition of forest rights in this manner is committing a criminal offence under the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Forest Rights Act and should be prosecuted. This open contempt for laws that provide some protection for the rights of millions of tribals and forest dwellers is unprecedented,” said Karat in her letter to Modi while requesting him to ensure speedy withdrawal of the NTCA’s order.

However, a senior NTCA official, who wished anonymity, said: “Critical tiger habitats are to be completely inviolate forest areas. The simple position is that as per the Act there is no possibility of giving rights to anyone.”

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