Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday lodged a protest with Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar over the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, being sent to a joint committee and demanded that it be examined by the standing committee which he heads.
In a letter to Dhankhar, Ramesh said sending the Bill to the joint committee of both Houses means "devaluation and denigration" of the status and functions of the standing committee.
He said he was writing to Dhankhar on behalf of the Congress and the entire Opposition over the manner in which the Bill has been dealt with in both the Houses.
Pointing out that the Bill was referred to a joint committee first in the Lok Sabha and then in the Rajya Sabha, Ramesh said the legislation falls fairly and squarely in the domain the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
Noting that this committee is one of the eight committees of the Rajya Sabha, Ramesh sought Dhankhar's urgent intervention to prevent its "complete emasculation".
"Standing committees are primarily to examine Bills. But they can do so only if Bills are allowed to be referred to them for scrutiny. By referring the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill,2023 to a joint committee, the Union government is deliberately by-passing the standing committee which would have subjected the legislation to detailed examination with the full participation of all stakeholders," Ramesh said.
"That I am the chairman of the standing committee leads me to the firm belief that the Government of India does not want the Bill to be examined by the standing committee concerned, although the majority of its members belong to the ruling party," he said.
As chairman, Ramesh said, he has managed the standing committee in a most democratic and non-partisan manner.
"At times, I have allowed my personal views to take a back-seat when there is a larger consensus in a different direction. And I have always adhered to deadlines," the Congress general-secretary said.
He said that there are also "serious problems" with the list of members from the Rajya Sabha proposed by the government for the joint committee.
"No member of the Opposition figures in the list which is hopelessly one-sided. That is a separate issue. The fundamental issue is the devaluation and denigration of the status and functions of the standing committee concerned," he said.
"I am confident that you will ensure that proper parliamentary rules, procedures, conventions and traditions will be followed and that the standing committee on science & technology, environment, forests & climate change will get to examine the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023," Ramesh said in the letter to Dhankhar.
Attaching his letter, Ramesh tweeted, "My letter of protest to Rajya Sabha Chairman on the referral of the contentious Forest Conservation(Amendment)Bill, 2023 to a special committee of MPs instead of the standing committee. It is a blatantly political move but nothing better can be expected from this regime."
Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav introduced the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, in Lok Sabha on Wednesday. The Bill was then sent to a joint committee of both the Houses for discussion.
The Bill seeks to bring clarity to the country's forest conservation law and exempt certain categories of lands from its purview to fast-track strategic and security-related projects of national importance.
After the Upper House reassembled in the afternoon, following an adjournment in the pre-lunch session, Chairman Dhankhar took up the motion for nomination to the joint committee on the Bill and asked Yadav to move it.
The environment minister moved the motion to nominate Rajya Sabha members Ashok Bajpai, Anil Baluni, Samir Oraon and CM Ramesh (all Bharatiya Janata Party), Jawhar Sircar (All India Trinamool Congress), Prashanta Nanda (Biju Janata Dal), Hishey Lachungpa (Sikkim Democratic Front), Birendra Prasad Baishya (Asom Gana Parishad) in the committee besides two members to be nominated by the chairman.