Forest Rights Act
Social justice > Government Policies > Tribal affairs
WHY IN NEWS?
- A joint communication was issued by Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, which urges the states to review the implementation of Forest Rights Act and intimate the Union government about any clarifications to ensure a smooth process.
- Several Acts and policies such as the Indian Forest Acts of 1865, 1894 and 1927 of Central Government and some state forest Acts curtailed centuries old, customary use rights of local communities lived in and around forests
- This continued even after independence
- Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between tribal people and forests, the National Forest Policy, 1988, made provisions to safeguard the customary rights and interests on forest land of tribals.
- The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, also known as Forest Rights Act was drafted to fulfill the need for a comprehensive legislation to give due recognition to the forest rights of tribal communities
SALIENT PROVISIONS OF THE FOREST RIGHTS ACT:
- The Bill seeks to recognize and vest forest rights in Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) with respect to forest land and their habitat.
- The rights can be inherited but they are not transferable
- The Act vests two broad types of rights to forestland with forest-dwelling communities - individual forest rights (IFR) and community forest rights (CFR).
- While IFR secure an individual the right to hold, self-cultivate, and live in forestland under individual or common occupation, CFR have the potential to bring about radical changes in forest governance by, inter alia, conferring community forest resource rights and management authority on forest-dwelling communities.
- Since 2006, a total of 76,154 CFR claims to 88,04,870 acres of forestland have been recognised and, in many of the recognised CFR villages, forest dwellers have begun to exercise their rights.
- In detail these rights can be divided in to four:
- Title rights:
- It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
- Ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands will be granted.
- Use rights:
- The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
- Relief and development rights:
- To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
- Forest management rights:
- It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
- Customary rights exclude hunting, trapping or extracting body parts of any wild animal.
- FDSTs also cannot indulge in any activity that adversely affects wild animals, forests and the biodiversity in the local area and need to ensure that adjoining catchments areas and water sources are adequately protected.
- Authorities for vesting forest rights
- The Gram Sabha shall have the authority to initiate the process of determining the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights that may be given to FDSTs within the local limits of its jurisdiction under this Act.
- The Gram Sabha is empowered to receive claims, consolidate and verify them, and prepare a map delineating the area of each recommended claim
- Gram Sabha would then pass a resolution to that effect and forward a copy to the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC).
- The SDLC, which shall be constituted by the State Government, would examine the resolution passed by the Gram Sabha and prepare the record of forest rights. It would then be forwarded to the District Level Committee (DLC)
- The DLC would be the final authority to approve the record of forest rights
- A State Level Monitoring Committee would be formed to monitor the process of recognition and vesting of forest rights.
- If a person is not satisfied by the ruling of the Gram Sabha, he can file a petition to the SDLC and if not satisfied with the ruling of SDLC, he can petition to the DLC within 60 days of date of decision of the SDLC.
- The DLC’s decision would be final and binding.
- Penalties for Offences:
- The Act provides punishment for persons found guilty of contravening the provisions of the Act, engaging in unsustainable use of forest or forest produce, killing any wild animal etc
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ACT:
- Undoing a historical injustice:
- The acts looks to right the wrongs of government policies in both colonial and independent India toward forest-dwelling communities, whose claims over their resources were taken away during 1850s.
- Thus granting them the formal right over forest land is just undoing a historical injustice
- Sustainable livelihood to forest dwellers:
- The act also has potential of sustainably protecting forest through traditional ways along with providing tribes means of livelihood.
- Reduce influence of left-wing extremism in tribal areas:
- Providing entitlement to tribal population will helps in tackling spread of extremist ideologies among them.
- Better conservation of forest:
- Traditional forest dwellers help in preserving forests, and giving them land rights would actually help in ecological conservation
- Check exploitation of forest resources by officials
- The act will ensure that people get to manage their forest on their own which will regulate exploitation of forest resources by officials
- Threat to ecology:
- The main challenge of the Act is to harmonize the potentially conflicting interest of recognizing forest rights of FDSTs while protecting forests and wildlife resources
- Conservationists say that certain species of animals (such as the tiger) cannot co-exist with humans, and there is a need to reserve at least some parts of forests to conserve these species
- They also say that increased human habitation in forests will cause depletion of forest cover, resulting in significant ecological costs.
- Lack of data:
- There are no reliable estimates of the number of families who will be benefiting from the legislation
- Lack of clarity in proving occupancy:
- The Act does not specify the kind of evidence that FDSTs would require to prove their occupancy of forest land
- The tribes and communities also lack the capability to prove their occupancy over the forest land
- Systemic issues:
- There is lack of coordination between the tribal, revenue and forest department on implementation of the Act.
- Moreover, there is lack of recognition of Community Forest Resource rights. There is a huge resistance from the forest department to recognize CFR Rights and sharing of power with Gram Sabha for conservation and management of forest resources.
- Dilution of the Act in implementation
- The Forest Rights Act is under the sole purview of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- However on many instances the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has also been brought within the purview of the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.
- This, according to experts, attempts to give more power to the Forest Department in conserving, protecting and managing the forest and its resources, which, in turn, could dilute the rights of the forest dwellers as prescribed in the Forest Rights Act.
- May led to oppressive state actions:
- The Act does not place any explicit restriction on the methods that can be used to remove non-eligible forest dwellers.
- This is a concern, given the history of cases where brutal force has been used to evict tribal families
- Creates social unrest:
- The Act recognizes rights of Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs.
- Other communities who depend on the forest for survival and livelihood reasons, but are not forest dwellers or Scheduled Tribes, for instance in large sections of Chattisgarh and forest tracts of Uttarakhand, are excluded from the purview of the Act.
- This could lead to large-scale eviction of such people and increase social tension among the various forest communities
- Role of Gram Sabha is minimal:
- Although the Gram Sabha has been given the power to initiate the process of determining forest rights, the final decision rests with the District Level Committee (DLC)
- Lack of awareness
- Many tribal communities or Grama Sabhas are unaware of the provisions of FRA. Hence, they have not taken adequate efforts to file their claims
- The recognition of community forest rights (CFR) claims across India has been slow and ineffective:
- Without crucial evidence and effective implementing agencies to facilitate the claim process, thousands of gram sabhas across India are yet to claim their CFR or have submitted claims without proper evidence, so that they are either pending or have been rejected at different stages
- Issues in recognized CFR claims:
- In several cases where CFR claims have been recognised, the recognised forest area is smaller than the claimed area, which is based on the traditional and customary boundaries of forest-dwelling villages.
- For example, the recognised CFR claims of several villages, such as Jamguda in Odisha, Kamepur in Chhattisgarh, and many other villages across India, are not as per the traditional and customary boundary of these villages
- Concern in the enforcement of CFR:
- Major concern in the enforcement of CFR across India is that gram sabhas with recognised CFR are not allowed to exercise exclusive ownership rights to NTFP; the nodal agency and district-level line departments do not extend the required technical support to the gram sabhas to protect and conserve the recognised forestland.
- Capacity building:
- It is important to develop a detailed strategy of training and capacity building of people responsible for implementing the Act
- Align other forest legislations with the provisions in FRA:
- Ensure that legislations and policies governing forest land such as Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 are not acting as a barrier to the successful implementation of the Act
- Large-scale awareness and information dissemination campaigns
- These are required at local level informing both tribal and lower level officials
- Integrating the implementation of MGNREGA and FRA:
- Need to use the opportunities offered by the MGNREGA to carry out conservation activities within forests.
- This may have the twin benefits of enhancing the incomes of tribal people and reducing the cost of forest conservation.
- Utilising technology:
- Technology needs to be utilised to support implementation of Act and make the process more efficient and effective.
- Experiences in the Vidarbha Region of Maharashtra:
- Vidarbha region of Maharashtra presents a unique case in the implementation of community forest rights where much of the region’s potential community forest rights claims have been recognised in the name of gram sabhas under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
- The factors that led to the success are collective action of gram sabhas, the role of non-governmental organisations, and state implementing agencies, and their collaboration in advancing the implementation of community forest rights
Q. ‘The Forest Rights Act protects the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood’. Comment.