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Jairam plans changes in Forest Act, depts unaware

 

The Indian Express
Wednesday, April 20 2011

Vivek Deshpande, Nagpur

Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh may have conducted public consultations on Bt brinjal, but his ministry has conceived an apparently far-reaching amendment to the Indian Forest Act (IFA) without consulting the biggest stakeholders — the state forest departments.
Ramesh announced at a press conference at Mumbai last week that an amendment was being made to the IFA whereby forest officials would have to take the consent of the gram sabha before registering an offence against anyone for violating the Act.

When The Indian Express contacted Alok Joshi, the state Head of the Forest Force (HoFF), to know what the amendment was about, he said: “I will be able to tell you only after we get the finer details.”

Joshi answered in the negative to a question if he, as HoFF, was consulted before the Centre decided to go ahead with the amendment.

The Indian Express also spoke to the Principal Chief Conservators of Forest of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh who also said they were not consulted on the amendment.

When contacted, Ramesh said, “There are some draconian provisions in the Act like anyone entering a forest being harassed and penalised. We want to change that. And we are only amending the Central Act. The states have to follow it in their own way.”

Asked why the heads of forest departments were not consulted, Ramesh said, “We had invited some divisional forest officers from Naxal-affected districts for consultations.”

A senior DFO told The Indian Express: “Yes, there was a meeting. But never ever was this particular point discussed. The discussion was related to the general question if forest department work was in any way leading to a rise of Naxalism.”

Ramesh said, “We are changing the offence compounding provision. Now, forest officials will have the power to compound offences up to Rs 10,000. Earlier, it was only Rs 50.”

A senior forest official, respected for his work in districts such as Gadchiroli, said, “When I read it in newspapers, I was taken aback. This kind of amendment has the potential to bring the law-enforcing functioning of the department to a standstill. The question remains why should we not be consulted on such an important matter. After all, we are the implementing agency.”

Nitin Desai, central India Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India and a leading wildlife crime expert said: “We need to know details... What pros and cons were discussed and among whom. Was the wildlife crime angle thoroughly checked before it was finalised....”

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