New Delhi: Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Thursday said questions should be asked of the government and parties that “rubber-stamped” the “insidious” Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, asserting that securing the rights of forest dwellers will be a long struggle.
Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, after a brief debate, amid protests by opposition members and a walkout by them over the Manipur issue.
The bill seeks to exempt land within 100 kilometres of the country’s borders from the purview of conservation laws and permit setting up of zoos, safaris and eco-tourism facilities in forest areas.
In a tweet, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh noted that “many environmentalists – who by no means are bhakts – have criticised the Opposition for having boycotted the Rajya Sabha when the amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which many have been agitating against, were being discussed yesterday”.
“Let me clarify: The decision to boycott was a collective decision of 26 INDIA parties because our legitimate demand for a statement by PM on Manipur followed by a discussion is being refused daily and the Leader of Opposition is simply not allowed to speak,” he said.
“The Bill had not been referred to the Standing Committee I chair. It was sent to a special joint committee which simply rubber-stamped the Bill. All this was a complete mockery of the legislative process,” he alleged.
Ramesh said he has spoken repeatedly against the amendments and will continue to do so.
“But it should not be forgotten that the battles we are fighting are across a very wide political canvas,” the Congress leader added.
“At times, a legitimate and principled stand on a larger issue can have consequences on a specific issue,” Ramesh argued.
“Questions should be asked of this government and even other parties that played ball and rubber-stamped this insidious Bill. It will be a long struggle for the environment and securing the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, and there should be no doubt where the Opposition stands on this issue,” he asserted.
Soon after the Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha, Ramesh had alleged that it was “bulldozed” in Parliament.
The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, that makes “several far-reaching and radical amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, has just passed in Rajya Sabha now in the absence of the opposition that is being silenced on Manipur”, Ramesh had said in a statement.
“Thus, both the substance of the amendments and the manner they have been bulldozed through in Parliament, reflect the mindset of the Modi government, and the vast gap that exists between its global talk and domestic walk on the environment, forests and the rights of adivasis and other forest-dwelling communities,” Ramesh had said.