<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) controversial directive from March this year asking states to stop settlement of tribal rights inside tiger reserves violates the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and should be thus kept in abeyance, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) told NTCA in a meeting.The NTCA, under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), had said in the directive to 17 tiger bearing states that the rights settlement should be halted as the guidelines to notify ‘critical wildlife habitats’ were not formulated. This was the responsibility of MoEF&CC, and the guidelines that were to be prepared in 2007 are still pending.The NCST had taken cognizance of news reports on the NTCA directive and its secretary held a meeting with NTCA’s senior officials. It told the NTCA Member Secretary, Debabrata Swain, that a legal process cannot be halted because of the pending guidelines, and asked the authority to not displace tribals till they finalize the guidelines. The NCST chairman, Nand Kumar Sai, is also expected to convene a meeting on this issue in December.Critical wildlife habitats are essentially areas inside national parks and sanctuaries that have to be kept inviolate, free of human encumbrance. But, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) mandates settling of the rights of forest dwelling communities living inside tiger reserves, and even critical wildlife habitats. The relocation of tribals from such areas has to be done on a voluntary’ basis, only after settling their rights and taking their consent.According to official estimates, as many as 45,000 families still live in the core or critical tiger habitats.”We told them that they should not allow displacement until they have cleared the critical wildlife habitats guidelines with us. We informed them that this needs closer understanding and scrutiny and the commission has made it clear in discussions that this (directive) is in violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA),” said Raghav Chandra, Secretary, NCST.NTCA were directed to fast track the process of formulating the guidelines. According to NCST officials, NTCA sought two to three years of time to complete this process. This was outright rejected and NTCA was told that the settlement of rights of cannot be halted because of a pending matter and they would have to to prepare the guidelines in a time-bound manner. NTCA member secretary Debabrata Swain could not be reached for comment.