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New Delhi: Responding to a notice over his "new law to shoot tribals" remark, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has told the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) that he made the comments in "free flow of a political speech", according to officials.

Addressing an election rally in Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh on April 23, Gandhi had alleged, "The Narendra Modi government has made a new law in which there is a line that says tribals can be shot at...They snatch your land, take away your jungle and water and then say that tribals can be shot at."

Taking cognisance of media reports, the NCST had issued a notice to Gandhi on May 3.

Gandhi's counsel, in a reply to the commission, said the Congress chief made the remarks in the "free flow of a political speech", an NCST official said.

"In the free flow of a political speech, my client essentially summarised the finalised amendment to Section 66 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. As per the amendment, statutory empowerment is being provided for use of force and highly intrusive prejudicial and physical measures against citizens who are mostly tribals and forest inhabitants," the reply read.

Gandhi alleged the government seeks to amend the provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 "drastically and in a draconian manner".

The NCST official said the proposed amendment to Section 66 (2) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 is related to "power to prevent commission of an offence. After the amendment, it will be called Indian Forest Act, 2019".

"In broad terms, the amendment says if a forest officer arrests a person while committing an offence in forest lands, like smuggling forest produce or carrying arms, the onus to establish his case lies on the accused," the official said.

The proposed amendment to Section 66 (2) of the Act says: "Any forest officer, may if necessary, to prevent the commission of any offence under this Act or under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 or to apprehend any person engaged in the commission of an offence under the said Acts, or who has committed such offence, use as little force including fire arms and do as little injury to person and property, as may be consistent with the prevention of the offence; or the apprehension of the accused; or securing of the forest-produce..."

Replying to a show cause notice issued by the Election Commission, Gandhi had earlier told the poll panel that he had tried to summarise a proposed amendment to the Indian Forest Act in a simple language during a political speech.

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