On Friday, May 13th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi implicitly attacked the Opposition for “delaying” the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, claiming that “thousands of crores” could have been released to the States had it been passed. This was a transparent dodge, since the issue was not whether to pass the Bill or not; the Bill could easily have been passed if the government had agreed to respect forest rights.
This was clear from the beiinning. After the PM’s statement, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh issued a short statement to clear the air:
In his farewell remarks to the Rajya Sabha yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi regretted the failure of the Rajya Sabha to pass the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill in this session. However, the Prime Minister failed to mention that the reason this Bill could not be passed was his own government’s inexplicable decision to not include any provisions in the Bill for respecting the rights of forest dwellers bestowed by the Forest Rights Act, 2006 when engaging in afforestation projects. This was objected to by the Congress, CPM, JD(U) and the TMC. This at a time when plantation activities of forest authorities are resulting in conflicts across the country. When the opposition gave notice for amendments to this effect, the government could have accepted them; but instead of doing so, the government chose to defer the Bill. This shows clearly that the government does not intend to respect forest rights, as is apparent from its moves to lease forest lands to private companies and similar steps. It is for the Prime Minister to explain why his government is so keen on transferring thousands of crores to forest bureaucrats without any measures to ensure that these funds are not misused, and that the rights of our country’s poorest people are protected.
Furthermore, on Thursday – when there was still time – CPM MP Jitendra Choudhury had written to Environment Minister Javadekar to accommodate protection of forest rights in the Bill, reminding of him of commitments he had made during the Lok Sabha debate. He released the letter after the PM’s statement. A copy of the letter is below.