Centre turns down request on land for tribals
By G. Prabhakaran
PALAKKAD, FEB. 7. The proposal of the State Government to release 40,000 acres of forest land
for assigning them to tribals in lieu of alienated land is learnt to have been turned down by the Centre.
The proposal was returned as it did not satisfy the conditions that allow forest land to be used for non-forestry purposes in extreme cases as laid down in the Central Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The State Government had sent a top forest official with the proposal to the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment, hoping to get immediate sanction to assign 40,000 acres of forest land to the tribals.
The Union Ministry is learnt to have told the State Government that no forest land could be released for non-forestry purposes in the Nilgiri Biosphere area, under which the Attappady and other forests in Palakkad district and part of Tamil Nadu forests in Nilgiri areas fall.
The State had asked for 10,000 acres of forest in the Agali and Attappady forest ranges of the Mannarkkad Forest Division in Palakkad district for assigning to the tribals of Attappady, second largest tribal settlement in the State.
The other major chunk of forest land proposed to be assigned falls in Wayanad district, where the biggest tribal population in the State is concentrated. The other districts where forest land was sought for assigning to the tribals include Idukki, Pathanamthitta, Kollam, Thrissur, Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram.
The Union Forest and Environment Department told the State Government officials that before considering the proposal, a detailed environment impact assessment had to be done by the Union Ministry. Since this proposal involved vast forest tracts covering sensitive forest areas in different districts of the State, the ecological impact assessment was a must, the Environment Ministry officials said.
Experts in forest laws say even if the Central Government intends to release the vast forest land, it cannot do it without amending the Central Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Since it is an Act of Parliament, it can be amended only by Parliament and no executive order of the Government can violate its provisions. In such a situation, any citizen can go to court and get the executive order quashed. Since such release of forest land in any part of the country would lead to wanton destruction of the scare forest cover, no Government would take steps to amend the Central Act, they said.
The legal experts say that the assignment of forest land can be done by the State Government only with the prior approval of the Centre. There are various forest conservation Acts that strictly prevent destruction of forest. The conservation Act in force includes the Madras Preservation of Private Forest Act, Kerala Preservation of Private Forest Act, Kerala Forest Act, Kerala Private Forest (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the various orders of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court order in the T.L. Godavarma Thirumulpad Vs. Union of India and others is a landmark judgment, which said that the word `forest' should be taken in its dictionary meaning whether notified as `reserved', `protected', or otherwise.
The returning of the proposal by the Centre has put the Kerala Government in an embarrassing situation.
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