Digvijay for review of 1980 Forest Act
By Our Special Correspondent
DEWAS, APRIL 23.The Government of Madhya Pradesh is to host a consultative meeting in June to discuss the need to review the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. The meeting, to which a number of Chief Ministers will be invited, follows Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's letter last August to the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, which stated that while the 1980 legislation was ``a crisis-driven response'', there was now a need for ``a strategic response that can create synergies between conservation objectives and development objectives.'' Chief Ministers of the States in the North-East and other States where forests occupied a higher than average area would be invited to the meeting.
The decision to host the meeting comes in the wake of Mr. Digvijay Singh's tour of Dewas district on Sunday when he visited some of the villages in Bagli tehsil that had been subjected to a government drive in late March and early April to seize wood alleged to have been illegally felled in the neighbouring forests.
At a meeting in Bhopal today the State Government decided on a compensation of Rs one lakh to families of each of the four persons killed in police firing at Mehndikheda village on April 2 during the wood recovery operation as also to the family of the adivasi who was shot by forest guards in Katukiya village in 1999. The Government has also decided to constitute a high-level committee headed by a principal secretary that will among other things enquire into the events that led to the April 2 firing and identify the families eligible for compensation because their houses had been destroyed during the wood recovery operation of the district administration. A number of houses had been destroyed in the six villages in the course of the attempt to seize wood believed to have been collected from the forests. The district administration had insisted that the destroyed homes were only huts under construction using new wood. The Government committee will identify old houses that had been destroyed and each of the affected families will receive a compensation of Rs. 5,000.
The circumstances under which adivasi villages have been compelled to fell trees in the protected forests has persuaded the State Government that there is a need to find new ways to combine conservation concerns with the demands of livelihood. Although what form amendments to the 1980 Act could take have not been spelt out in Mr. Digvijay Singh's letter to Mr. Vajpayee, the Chief Minister had argued then that the interpretation of the two decade-old Act had in effect ``withdrawn practically all available land from the sphere of development in a state like Madhya Pradesh.''
Today's meeting also saw a decision to ``democratise'' the Van Vikas Samitis by giving the gram sabhas a greater role in their constitution and operation. The central role that has been played by the Forest Department in the formation of these committees has meant that they are now seen less as people's organisations and more as government-controlled institutions which have done little for people's management of the forests. The idea is to move from ``joint forest management'' to ``community forest management.''