New Delhi: While activists have been blaming the environment ministry of trying to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, for easy access to land for infrastructure projects, the ministry of tribal affairs has ticked off errant states for poor implementation of the Act.

The ministry has asked the governments of West Bengal, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand to implement FRA at the earliest.

Tribal affairs secretary Arun Jha sent a letter regarding this to the chief secretaries of the nine states on 10 June.

The move comes after the issue was discussed in an April meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he called for the implementation of FRA by states in campaign mode.

The Act passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is aimed to ensure that forest-dwellers, including Scheduled Tribes, get their rights over forest land and non-timber forest produce.

“During the last seven years, a good overall progress has been made in the country in the implementation of the FRA. However, a lot still remains to be done in some of the states, including yours," Jha wrote in a letter to one of the nine states.

The letter asked the states to set up a special cell to monitor FRA implementation. “Special emphasis should be given on extensive capacity-building programmes across the state to field-level officials and panchayat functionaries to take up implementation of FRA in a time-bound manner," the letter stated.

Till February end, around 3.9 million individual- and community-claims for forest land have been filed across India, but only 1.6 million land titles have been issued, while 1.7 million were rejected, according to data available with the ministry.

Jha has also suggested a model roadmap for FRA implementation, while asking the states to modify it based on local needs. “You are also requested to draw up the milestones and timelines required to implement FRA in a time-bound manner," said Jha, while adding that the ministry will review these milestones every month.

The main focus is to develop capacities for states that have lagged, said a senior tribal affairs ministry official who did not want to be named.

Activists working towards forest rights for tribals, however, blamed the government of doublespeak. “On one hand you are attempting to dilute the FRA and on the other hand you ask state governments to improve FRA’s implementation. But the state also has a huge share of responsibility in poor implementation of this Act," said forest rights activist Shankar Gopalakrishnan.

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