The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has taken serious exception to Odisha government on the alleged violation of Forest Rights Act in the state and has written to the Chief Secretary G C Pati in this regard.

The Chief Secretary, who is also the Chairman of the FRA Stale level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) has taken decisions which are in contravention to the Act, said reliable sources while referring to the ministry&’s letter.

The FRA SLMC in its 21 July 2015 meeting had decided to convert VSS as Gram Sabha&’s Forest Protection and Management committee formed or to be formed under Section 4(1) (e) of Forest Rights Rules, 2007.

The SLMC proceedings had noted that “The Ministry of Tribal Affairs had issued guidelines that the JFM Committees or the Vana Surakshya Samities (VSS) are not eligible for availing the Community Forest Rights as per the FRA provisions.

However in Odisha, the VSS have been nurtured by the Forest and Environment department to sustainably manage and protect forest resources.

Hence the committee decided that those VSS where there are no conflicts with the Gram Sabha in sustainable management of the forest resources may be identified so that Community Forest Rights can be given under FRA.”

Rejecting this contention, the Ministry has said CFR may be conferred to Gram Sabha and not to VSS Committee as per rules. “There is no status that vests any authority with the VSS for CFR rights”. The Ministry official noted that “Claims to JFM areas under CFR (Form C) by VSS and grant of titles to VSS are not permissible under FRA”.

MoTA has also dismissed of decision taken by SLMC, Govt of Odisha in Para 10 of its proceeding to co-opt the Superintendents of Police / Addl.

SP&’s as DLC members and Sub Divisional Police Officers as the SDLC members as Special Invitees. The Ministry has asked the chief secretary to withdraw the decision and communicate such withdrawal to all officers in the field.

It is to be noted that Campaign for Survival and Dignity(CSD) which fought for the enactment of FRA in the country had earlier condemned the controversial decision taken by the SLMC in July.

The CSD had raised the issue with the Ministry and asserted that the VSS can never be converted into Forest Protection and Management committee under the FRA, 2006.