Environment minister Harshvardhan
File photo of Union Minister of Environment Dr. Harsh Vardhan | PIB photo
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Vardhan rules out rechristening name of forest service since doing so would be ‘a complex process’.

New Delhi: Environment minister Harsh Vardhan has proposed that officers from the Indian Forest Service (IFS) be inducted in the ministry of tribal affairs in order to incorporate tribal welfare in the mandate of the service.

Vardhan was responding to the proposal of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) to rechristen the name of the forest service as ‘Indian Forest and Tribal Service’, in order to ensure that along with performing their duties as forest officer, IFS officers also prepare, implement and monitor tribal welfare policies.

However, in the letter he has written to the NCST on 11 January, the environment minister has ruled out rechristening the name of the service at least immediately since doing so would be “a complex process”.

While his ministry is still examining the proposal, he has said, “However, from a cursory look I feel rechristening of Indian Forest Service as Indian Forest & Tribal Service may be a long-drawn and complex process as it is an All India Service constituted under Article 312 of the Constitution of India and may necessitate amendment of the Constitution and consultation with the states.”

“Moreover, the objectives flagged by the commission can be achieved by incorporating tribal welfare in the mandate of the IFS,” he has further said.

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The name change proposal

In November last year, ThePrint had reported that the NCST had mooted this idea, arguing that the name change would ensure that IFS officers would also look into tribal welfare when managing forests.

“Presently, tribal development activities are being looked after by officers drawn from the State Civil Services, who work mostly under Tribal Development Department,” the draft recommendation prepared by the NCST stated. “At the higher level of government, there is no dedicated service for the development of STs in the country.”

As a result, the Tribal Ministry has no say in the management of forests, while the Environment Ministry — which is the cadre-controlling ministry for IFS officers — is trying to conserve forests without taking tribals into account, the recommendation says.

“This has led to an approach where the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is trying to conserve the forests with or without tribals whereas the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is aiming at the welfare of tribals without having much say on the management of forests as the primary resource of tribals,” the draft recommendation says.

In an attempt to fix this dichotomy, the commission had suggested the name change.

“The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes feels that there should be unity of purpose and in order to achieve this, the first step will be creation of a set of officials both at the Centre and state levels who are singularly responsible and accountable to the State Governments as well as Government of India for development of tribals as well as conservation of forests,” it had then said.

While the environment minister has pointed at the logistical difficulties in changing the name of a service, he has nevertheless recognised the merit in the commission’s proposal.

“I am indeed very happy that the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has succinctly recognised the symbiotic relationship between the Tribes and Forests,” he has said in his letter.

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