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Social Justice

Forest Rights Act, 2006

  • 16 Nov 2020
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Recently, review petitions of approximately 1200 tribals for recognition of their claims over forest land under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was rejected by the local authorities in Mysuru (Karnataka).

Key Points

  • Background:
    • A large number of people, especially the scheduled tribes have lived in and around forests for a long period in symbiotic relationships.
    • During the colonial time, the focus shifted from the forests being used as a resource base for sustenance of local communities to a State resource for commercial interests and development of land for agriculture.
    • Several Acts and policies such as the three Indian Forest Acts of 1865, 1894 and 1927 of the Central Govt and some state forest Acts curtailed centuries‐old, customary‐use rights of local communities.
    • This continued even after independence till much later until enactment of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
    • The Supreme Court in 2019 ordered the eviction of nearly a million people across India whose claims under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 had been rejected.
  • Provisions of the Forest Rights Act:
    • The Act recognizes and vest the forest rights and occupation in Forest land in Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who have been residing in such forests for generations.
      • Forest rights can also be claimed by any member or community who has for at least three generations (75 years) prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in forest land for bona fide livelihood needs.
    • It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST and OTFD.
    • The Gram Sabha is the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of Individual Forest Rights (IFR) or Community Forest Rights (CFR) or both that may be given to FDST and OTFD.
    • The Act identifies four types of rights:
      • 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 etc.
      • Relief and development rights: To rehabilitate 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.
  • Importance:
    • Constitutional Provision Expansion: It expands the mandate of the Fifth and the Sixth Schedules of the Constitution that protect the claims of indigenous communities over tracts of land or forests they inhabit.
    • Security Concerns: The alienation of tribes was one of the factors behind the Naxal movement, which affects states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand.The Act through identifying IFR and CFR tries to provide inclusion to tribes.
    • Forest Governance:
      • It has the potential to democratise forest governance by recognising community forest resource rights.
      • The act will ensure that people get to manage their forest on their own which will regulate exploitation of forest resources by officials, improve forest governance and better management of tribal rights.

Challenges

  • Administrative Apathy:
    • As tribals are not a big vote bank in most states, governments find it convenient to subvert FRA or not bother about it at all in favour of monetary gains.
  • Lack of Awareness:
    • Unawareness at the Lower level of forest officials who are supposed to help process forest rights claims is high and majority of the aggrieved population too remains in the dark regarding their rights.
    • The forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an instrument to regularise encroachment instead of a welfare measure for tribals.
  • Dilution of Act:
    • Certain sections of environmentalists raise the concern that FRA bends more in the favour of individual rights, giving lesser scope for community rights.
    • Community Rights effectively gives the local people the control over forest resources which remains a significant portion of forest revenue making states wary of vesting forest rights to Gram Sabha.
  • Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control:
    • The forest bureaucracy fears that it will lose the enormous power over land and people that it currently enjoys, while the corporates fear they may lose the cheap access to valuable natural resources.
  • Institutional Roadblock:
    • Rough maps of community and individual claims are prepared by Gram Sabha which at times often lack technical knowhow and suffers from educational incapacity.

Way Forward

  • Large-scale awareness and information dissemination campaigns are required at local level informing both tribal and lower level officials.
  • It is important to develop a detailed strategy of training and capacity building of people responsible for implementing the FRA, such as Panchayats, Gram Sabha, village level Forest Rights committee etc.
  • The relevant maps and documents should be made available to the Forest rights committee and claimants to simplify the task of the Gram Sabha in identifying and filing claims for individual and community rights.
  • Providing clarity on the time limit for settling claims. The Act does not specify any time limit for resolving claims.
  • The Centre should take a more proactive role in pushing states to honour a law that could change the lives of millions.

Source: TH

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