Face-off over proposal for burial/dumping grounds in forests

Telangana state government’s bid to take over forest lands for development of burial/cremation grounds, crematoriums and garbage dump yards has manifested in a confrontation between the district Collector and Forest department officials in the Kumram Bheem Asifabad district.

Forest officials from the district are reported to have submitted a written complaint to the Minister for Environment & Forests A.Indrakaran Reddy, against the allegedly haughty attitude of the collector Sandeep Kumar Jha, and the matter has been escalated to the Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar.

As per the details shared by sources unwilling to be identified, Mr.Jha is pressing the district forest officials to issue no objection certificate (NOC) for carrying out non-forest activity inside the forest lands, for development of dumps and cremation grounds as per the government’s directives.

Entreaties for adherence to due procedure under the Forest Conservation Act for alienation of forest lands have not yielded result, and miffed with the Collector’s attitude, the officials approached the Minister for redress.

It is learnt that they have complained about “rude” language of the district Collector, even while addressing the District Forest Officer. While Adilabad DFO is given the full additional charge as the DFO of Asifabad too, Mr.Jha is reportedly insisting that the former be present at Asifabad district headquarters 24X7. Mr. Jha has not responded when sought his version about the complaints.

In November last year, the State government has issued directives to the district collectors, DFOs, and District Tribal Welfare Officers to process the government’s proposals to provide certain amenities namely burial grounds, cremation grounds, crematoriums, and dumping yards ostensibly to the communities having rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also known as Forest Rights Act (FRA).

Following this, express directions were also issued by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests R.Sobha, to process the proposals under the Section 3(1) of the FRA, and not the Section 3(2).

While there is no mention of provision of new burial grounds and garbage dumps in the Act, Section 3(1) talks about community rights in general, while Section 3(2) specifically lists the amenities for which degraded forest land less than a hectare may be diverted.

The amenities include schools, dispensary or hospital, anganwadis, fair price shops, electric and telecommunication lines, tanks and other minor water bodies, drinking water supply, rain harvesting structures, minor irrigation canals, non conventional energy sources, skill upgradation or vocational training centres, roads and community centres. There is no mention of burial/cremation grounds or garbage dumps.

The government’s decision had drawn flak from environmental activists then, who termed it as a misuse of FRA.

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