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NAC finalise recommendations to FRA

New Delhi: Seeking to give a better deal to tribals, the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi on Saturday cleared recommendations to amend the Forest Rights Acts (FRA) that could give forest dwellers more say in managing their affairs.

Among the key amendments suggested to the FRA include increasing representation of tribals in gram sabhas. It also favoured giving them more power thus making it impossible for district level committees to overturn claims made by the gram sabhas.

The NAC also suggested making it mandatory that two- thirds of members of gram sabhas would be forest dwellers.

Currently, one third of the gram sabha members are tribals.

The NAC has recommended that the district level committees should not reject the claims made by the gram sabha, which is seen as an attempt to have greate involvement of locals and tribals in managing their affairs.

The NAC was concerned over high rejection rates on the claims made by forest dwellers, which in some states was more than 60 per cent.

The advisory body also recommended that the quorum for holding gram sabha meetings be brought down to 50 per cent of the total members. Currently, the presence of two-thirds of the total gram sabha members is necessary to hold a meeting.

The NAC also suggested setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism for tribals. It also wanted the gram sabhas to be called at the level of actual compact settlements of the hamlet or village.

"The purpose of these recommendations is to ensure that the key features of this law -? the democratic process of recognising rights, the protection to a range of livelihood rights, and the powers of communities to protect and conserve forests  are not undermined," a NAC statement said.

NAC Chairperson is expected to communicate the recommendations to the government soon.

The NAC also finalised a key contentious issue regarding changes in a provision of the Right to Information Act that limits an RTI application to one subject and 250 words.

Following discussions with the Department of Personnel and Training, it was decided to suggest doubling the limit to 500 words. This excludes the annexures an applicant may attach to his request.

NAC members also said that the application should not be rejected if it contained more than the stipulated 500 words as the idea behind the RTI Act was to make information available and not create barriers for its release.

The NAC also decided to set up new Working Groups on Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation; urban poverty; natural resource management, in convergence with MGNREGA with focus on rainfed areas; and skill development and placement.

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