The tribal people, including primitive tribal groups (PTG) in southern Odisha, along with their associate activities have strongly protested the Union government's decision to amend the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The rights of the gram sabha would be taken away for giving consent for an industrial project if the amendments in the act are carried out. "The change will facilitate the industrial houses like Vedanta and Posco to set up their plants and mine in the green belts," said the tribal leaders.
The tribal people including Dongaria Kandhas from southern Odisha districts-Ganjam, Gajapati, Kandhamal, Rayagada and Kalahandi staged demonstration in Bhubaneswar on Saturday in protest against the Central government's decision to change FRA.
The proposed mining project in Niyamagiri hill to feed bauxite to the Vedanta Aluminium's Langigarh refinery was denied by the Central government when almost all gram sabhas on the foothills of Niyamgiri, straddling Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, rejected the proposal last year.
"The change in FRA will facilitate mining in the hill. We will oppose any change of the FRA," they said.
"The move of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is aimed at facilitating the major industrial houses," said Prafulla Samantara. It would be easy to get approval for projects coming up near green areas not recorded as forests by the erstwhile British government and not having tribal population since 2001. However, it fails to recognise rights of other forest dwellers," added Bhala Chandra Sarangi, another activist.
The change notified by MoEF through a circular recently, gives powers to the district collectors to notify whether FRA is applicable to the project site or not, sources said. They will have to certify that the green area was not a notified forest in 1930 and no tribals lived in the villages as per the last two census.
It would be enough for the ministry's forest advisory committee (FAC) to exempt FRA compliance for the project, sources said. "It means that the mandatory consent of the gram sabha-the village body in and around the project site will not be required," said Samantara. "It also dilutes the objective of FRA," the activists said. The Ministry's order violates the FRA in its interpretation of the Act which is meant to undo the historical injustice suffered by forest dwelling tribal and non-tribal communities, they added.