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Vedanta and lessons in conservation

The Forest Rights Act of 2006—also known as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act—came after considerable and bitter opposition from conservation groups.

They said the Act, which would grant land rights to tribals and other forest dwellers, would destroy forests and wipe out wildlife. Worse, the rights would make it easy for developers to take over forests. In other words, acknowledging the right of people over their forest was a bad idea.

The recent Vedanta decision—to reject clearance to the multinational company’s bauxite mining project in Orissa—must be viewed in the light of this opposition. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ panel, chaired by former bureaucrat N C Saxena, has indicted the state government for its non-adherence to the Act. It found the Act, which stipulated that the rights of tribals be settled before clearing any project, was followed only in the breach. More importantly, the Act says the forest-dwelling communities must give their consent through the gram sabha before a project is cleared. The Saxena committee says this was not done. Worse, it found the state government tried to cover up its negligence. The bottom line is that people living where mining is proposed are against the project. They were not heard.

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