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A Victory for Tribals and Forest Dwellers – Govt Withdraws Indian Forest Act Amendments

In a press conference today, Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar announced that the government is withdrawing its proposal to bring draconian amendments to the Indian Forest Act. The proposed amendments would have made forest officials the most powerful officials in the country, with the power to arrest, raid, seize and shoot to kill without facing any accountability – powers that even the security forces do not enjoy in disturbed areas.

We welcome this withdrawal, which follows on nationwide protests and condemnation across the political spectrum, and which has clearly been done to avoid the mass protests planned across the country and in Delhi as well as to avoid negative fallout in the Jharkhand elections.

We note that the Minister’s statement is deeply misleading in several respects. The Minister claimed that the proposed amendments were merely a “draft” that resulted from a “study”, but in fact the letter sent to State governments on March 7th clearly stated that this was a proposal for legislation (you can see a copy here) and the Minister himself stated the same in this reply to a starred question in Parliament on June 28th. In the same reply he also misled Parliament by stating that the draft would be “in addition” to the rights recognised by the Forest Rights Act, though in fact it would have negated those rights.

We note that the Minister’s announcement today is meaningless until the Ministry issues a written notification withdrawing this draft. The protests on the 17th, which were on other issues as well as this, will continue as planned.

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