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Demand to withdraw 'anti-environment, anti-adivasi' forest conservation rules 2022

By Gopinath Majhi* 

The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, a coalition of adivasis and forest dwellers’ organisations, has sent a memorandum to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising serious concerns over Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, notified by the Centre on June 29. 
Contending that recent amendments and a host of executive orders/guidelines issued by the ministry undermine and dilute the FRA and threaten the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, CSD demands that the 2022 FC Rules should be rescinded forthwith.
Demanding withdrawal of such anti-people and anti-environment rules CSD Odisha organised a protest Dharana in front of State Assembly today on 25th November 2022 and submitted memorandums to the Hon’ble Governor of Odisha, Chief Secretary and Commissioner-cum-Secretary, ST & SC Development Department for conveying our concerns against the FC Rules 2022 to the Central Government for its withdrawal.
The memorandums were also sent to the President of India, Srimati Draupadi Murmu, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India raising the serious concerns and demanding withdrawal of FC Rules, 2022.
The notification of the FC Rules 2022 is a major assault on the rights of adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers and on the forests. It violates the Forest Rights Act by taking away the statutory requirement of seeking consent from the Gram Sabhas before approval of the forest diversions by the MoEFCC.
By doing so, the Central government has abdicated its responsibility to ensure the conservation of forests and check deforestation as well as to ensure the protection of rights of adivasis and forest dwellers as mandated by the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Forest Rights Act. Under FC Rules, 2022, the Central government has now passed on the responsibility to ensure compliance of laws including FRA while issuing the final order, which reduces the statutory requirement under the FCA and FRA to a mere formality. So in effect, the Central government would now encourage the State authorities to commit illegalities and violations of forest rights.
Furthermore, the FC Rules 2022 proposes setting up of land banks in community common lands and revenue forests for allocation of these lands for compensatory afforestation. It also introduces Accredited Compensatory Afforestation, a new scheme where private tree plantations can be treated as readymade afforested areas that can be offered as compensatory afforestation. Both these violate the Forest Rights Act and PESA, can severely affect rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, and can lead to massive conversion of croplands into private commercial plantations.
FC Rules 2022 are targeted to ease business in favour of the project developers and private companies
The notification of FC Rules 2022 is clearly targeted to ease business in favour of the project developers and private companies making it easy to take away forest land in violation of the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers. 
It comes in the background of a series of major legal changes either proposed or implemented by the central government and the MoEFCC for easing business- amendments proposed in the FCA in 2021, IFA in 2019, the National Forest Policy in 2018, and a host of executive orders/guidelines issued by the ministry -- that undermine and dilute the FRA and threaten the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers.
CSD Odisha has demanded the Central Government and the MoEFCC to immediately withdraw the FC Rules 2022 and to ensure strict compliance of FRA and consent of Gram Sabhas before diversion of forest lands.
The implementation of the FC Rules 2022 can adversely impact a large population of adivasis and forest-dependent communities in Odisha and can lead to massive destruction of forests. Therefore CSD Odisha has urged the government of Odisha to take up the concerns regarding the FC Rules 2022 with the central government to protect the rights of adivasis and forest dwelling communities.
More than 400 adivasis and forest dwellers including more than 100 women have joined and participated in the dharna from the districts namely Ganjam, Gajapati, Koraput, Malkanagiri, Kalhandi, Kandhamal, Sundargarh, Jharsuguda, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Jajpur, Mayurbhanj, Balangir, Baragarh, Nuapada, Khorda, besides others. 
They unanimously demanded immediate withdrawal of the FC Rule 2022 and effective implementation of FRA by protecting the rights and authority vested with Gram Sabhas on diversion of forestland and conservation and management of community forest resources.
The contribution of adivasis and forest dwellers in protection and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity are significant but the government should stop mindless diversion of thousands of hectares of forestland and natural resources to the corporate companies instead transfer the management and conservation responsibilities immediately to the Gramsabhas under effective and speedy implementation of Forest Rights Act, said Prafulla Samantara, environmentalist.
Among Others Human Rights Lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, senior members of CSD Pradeep Sahoo, Bijay Swain, Narendra Mohanty, and many tribal leaders from various districts namely Pradeep Sabar, Madan Marandi, Kunjabihari Chandan, Bhisma Pangi, Rupadhar Bishoi, Srimati Gurubari Sabar, Jasiya Raita, Tanka Pradhani, Muralidhar Nayak (Mayurbhanj Jangal March), Shyamant Pradhan, Ananta Turku, Sandip Patnaik, Dambarudhar Nayak, Malikram Kumbhar, Chhotray Munda, Goutam Patra, Brajasundar Champia many other have shared their protest against and demanded for immediate withdrawal of the Forest Conservation Rules 2022.
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*State Convener, CSD Odisha

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