The FRA, coupled with a August 2009 order ensuring compliance of the Act by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), disallows the ministry from giving forest clearance to a project before the rights of forest-dwellers have been settled and the gram sabha has given a go-ahead to the acquisition of forestland. In the Posco case, two separate committees of the Centre have found that the Orissa government has been worse than lax at fulfilling the requirements of the FRA and the ministry is yet to get the village council resolutions approving the acquisition of forests which the villagers have laid claim to as traditional forest users.
The Posco case has turned the UPA’s flagship scheme from its first term—the Forest Rights Act (FRA)—into a minefield that the government has stumbled upon. With the provisions of the Act, requiring consent from the gram sabha, or the village council concerned, and settling of all traditional rights before development projects usurp forest lands, the Posco case, where the Orissa government has been unable to acquire these certificates, has become a precedent setting one.
These rules make the FRA stronger than even the proposed R&R bill where the UPA has been keen to keep a window open to buy out a small percentage of trenchant opposition holding out against land acquisition by private parties. In the Posco case, two separate committees of the Centre have found that the Orissa government has been worse than lax at fulfilling the requirements of the FRA and the ministry is yet to get the village council resolutions approving the acquisition of forests which the villagers have laid claim to as traditional forest users.
Orissa has claimed otherwise, but has not been able to furnish the village resolutions to the Centre so far. With the recent brand positioning of Rahul Gandhi as the voice of tribals and forest-dwellers, riding on the decision in the Vedanta case to deny mining under the FRA, the UPA is bound to find it difficult to even be seen undermining the law. To complicate matters, the ministry is saddled with a forest bureaucracy that is keen to knock the teeth out of the legislation that they perceive as a threat. Its Forest Adivsory Committee (FAC), stacked with several forest officials, assessing the Posco report, initially decided to overlook the parent ministry’s August 2009 circular requiring the gram sabha resolutions and other documentary proof that the FRA process has been completed.