If democracy is to survive, it cannot be a winner-take-all system, particularly not one in which one party is always going to win, and thus take all. When some governing responsibilities and resources are devolved to lower levels of authority, and when there are a lot of different provinces and municipalities whose governments will be chosen through elections, parties and groups that cannot win control of the central government may win the opportunity to exercise power in some of the lower-level governments This increases their confidence in and commitment to the political system, and the sense among citizens generally that the system is fair and inclusive. If groups with strong bases of support in the country are completely and indefinitely excluded from any share of political power at any level, they are likely to question and even challenge the legitimacy of the system.
But now in a recent move Gram Sabhas in forest areas of the country have been stripped of their power to approve or reject proposals for diversion of their forest land for building roads, transmission lines, canals or other linear projects under the Forest Rights Act. This amendment follows the agreement reached at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo and Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan.
The linear projects, which do not require vast parcels of land yet go through several gram sabha clearance process, getting consent from every single such body was difficult. One of the major infrastructure projects affected by clearance lag is the 1,185-km Kochi-Koottanad-Mangalore-Bangalore gas pipeline. The recent orders allow parallel processing for different clearances, a speedier procedure for expansion of existing projects and a decision to allow linear projects to begin work with an environment clearance provided they had a Plan B in case forest clearance was not granted.
Yes there is a real problem with gram sabha approval for linear projects is that roads and powerlines pass through hundreds of villages but individual opinion of each can decide their fate. However, the new idea of seeking state-level approvals, as suggested by the PMO, may not adequately address local concerns. Instead, we need public consultations at the district level. But there are areas — India’s few remaining natural systems — where no creation or expansion of linear or other projects can be allowed because none is needed. Otherwise, the state can junk the pretension of having green laws and environmental concerns.,In my opinion we need to know what we have where on ground, decide our priorities and streamline the laws. In spite of setting up Land Use Boards in every state during the 1970s and ’80s, India still does not have a national land use policy.
(References: Rural Ministry, PTI , IAS 100)