Monday, July 22, 2024

No takers in House for motion against amended Forest Act


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By Our Reporter

SHILLONG, Sep 21: The state Assembly on Thursday rejected a motion moved by the VPP’s North Shillong MLA Adelbert Nongrum to pass a resolution opposing the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023.
Moving the motion, Nongrum said the contentious bill was cleared by Parliament last month without a substantive debate.
He underscored that several state governments, environmentalists and civil society groups raised red flag about how the bill weakens the safeguards against exploitation of forest resources. He pointed out that the bill’s passage also met with opposition in some states of the Northeast.
“The fear of the states centres around two provisions of the new law. First, the provisions of FCA will apply only to forests that have been declared or notified as forests in government records on or after October 25, 1980. In fact, this implies that areas that are not officially classified as forest in government records even if they are standing forest, they will not be protected from commercial exploitation or any kind of diversion,” the VPP leader said.
The bill allows diversion of forest land for construction of roads, railway lines or strategic lines for project of national importance and concerning national security within 100 km of an international border without the need for forest clearance.
Talking about the concern of Meghalaya, he said, “If at all, we are to protect and preserve our customary forests such as Khla Rikynti Khlaw Shnong, Law Kyntang…then I believe we as legislators should raise our voice against the FCA, 2023.”
“If we are sincere in opposing uranium mining in South West Khasi Hills, then there is a reason to ensure that this House resolves to oppose the FCA, 2023 in order to protect the rights of the indigenous people of Meghalaya to land and its resources,” he said.
In his reply, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said, “The concerns raised by the member are also the concerns of all of us – whether it (FCA) in any way dilutes our rights and whether we can do things to protect the rights of the indigenous people.”
Talking about the ‘no forest clearance needed’ provision within 100 km from the international border for government projects, he said it essentially means that a state will not have to approach the Centre to get forest clearance of an important project coming up within 100 km from the international border.
Recalling that the work of Dawki road project was halted for many days because the state did not get forest clearance from the Centre, he said, “Now Government of India is saying that you do not have to come to us within 100 km of the border. Please go ahead with whatever project you require and the amendment is to the Forest Act and not to any other provisions that are there in different departments which have to be followed.”
Sangma, however, explained that the amendment to the Act does not mean that clearance will not be required from the district councils, Revenue department or other local clearances.
“All of them are required but the forest clearance, which was required earlier, will no longer be required. This means it (amended act) is making it easier for the government to implement projects,” Sangma said.
Assuring Nongrum, the CM said, “Local rights are protected. In fact, more power has been given through this Act.”
“…as per my knowledge, reading and discussions with my legal team, Law department, Advocate General and the Minister (concerned) in Government of India, this is done purely to give more power and strength to the state governments and local bodies,” he said.
But Nongrum refused to withdraw the motion. It was put in front of the House but there were takers, leading to its rejection.


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