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Issue 7
, 2007
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Cong general secy criticises attempts to stall forest Act

Nitin Sethi
Source: Times of India, Date: , 2007

It's not just the Left allies and the opposition BJP that are gunning for Congress for stalling and subverting the Forest Rights Act. Fissures are building within the party too on the issue. The environment ministry has received a letter from Congress general secretary V Kishore Chandra S Deo, criticizing its attempt "to negate the very purpose for which the Act was enacted by Parliament".

The ministry recently notified guidelines to declare national parks and sanctuaries as critical wildlife habitats which would facilitate relocating people from these protected areas while the Act is kept in abeyance.

What's got the pro-Act leaders within Congress miffed is that the provision for creating the critical wildlife areas, as per the legislation, is to be preceeded by settling the rights of the people living in the sanctuaries and national parks.

Once rights are formally recognised, the Act provides for assessing the value of such national parks and sanctuaries to wildlife conservation and, if necessary, relocating people from such areas.

But the Congress leadership stepped in at the last moment, stalled the implementation of the Act and instead allowed the environment ministry to immediately declare critical wildlife habitats, bypassing the rights allocating process.

Deo, in his letter, has condemned the environment ministry's communication to the states to set up the necessary committees and send proposals for demarcating the critical wildlife habitat, sources in the ministry told TOI.

With the PM holding the environment ministry portfolio along with two state ministers and the intervention of the Congress high command stalling the Act and instead pushing for early creation of inviolate wildlife areas, Deo's letter becomes politically significant. To convolute the matters more, the expert committee set up to finalise the critical widlife habitat has Valmik Thapar and Mahendra Vyas as the only non-official members.

The two are also members of the SC-appointed Central Empowered Committee on wildlife issues, which since its inception has been at loggerheads with the government on several counts.

The two are also members of the apex National Wildlife Board headed by the PM and in the recent meeting of the board had demanded that the Forest Rights Act be put on hold until its impact on wildlife could be reassessed by the board.