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NGT Upholds Rights of Pastoralists in Banni Grasslands

  • 25 May 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered all encroachments to be removed from Gujarat's Banni grasslands within six months.

  • The court also said the Maldharis (Pastoralists) will continue to hold the right to conserve the community forests in the area, granted to them as per the provisions in Section 3 of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.

National Green Tribunal

  • It is a specialised body set up under the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
  • NGT is mandated to make disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing the same.
  • The NGT has five places of sittings, New Delhi is the Principal place of sitting and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are the other four.
  • Being a statutory adjudicatory body like Courts, apart from original jurisdiction on filing of an application, NGT also has appellate jurisdiction to hear appeal as a Court (Tribunal).

Key Points

  • About Banni Grassland:
    • Location:
      • Banni is the largest grassland of Asia situated near the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.
      • It is spread over 2,618 kilometres and accounts for almost 45% of the pastures in Gujarat.
    • Ecosystem and Vegetation:
      • Two ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands, are mixed side by side in Banni.
      • Vegetation in Banni is sparse and highly dependent on rainfall.
        • Banni grasslands, traditionally, were managed following a system of rotational grazing.
      • Banni is dominated by low-growing plants, forbs and graminoids, many of which are halophiles (salt tolerant), as well as scattered tree cover and scrub.
      • The area is rich in flora and fauna, with 192 species of plants, 262 species of birds, several species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
    • Reserve Forest:
      • In 1955, the court notified that the grassland will be a reserve forest (the most restricted forests classified according to Indian Forest Act 1927).
      • In 2019, the tribunal ordered to demarcate the boundaries of the Banni grassland and restricted non-forest activities.
      • Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has identified this grassland reserve as one of the last remaining habitats of the cheetah in India and a possible reintroduction site for the species.

  • About Maldharis:
    • Maldharis are a tribal herdsmen community inhabiting Banni.
    • Originally nomads, they came to be known as Maldharis after settling in Junagarh (mainly Gir Forest).
    • The literal meaning of Maldhari is keeper (dhari) of the animal stock (mal).
      • The livestock include sheep, goats, cows, buffalo, and camels.
    • The Gir Forest National Park is home to around 8,400 Maldharis.
  • Provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006:
    • Under the provisions of the Act, forest dwellers cannot be displaced unless the rights settlement process has been completed.
    • Moreover, the Act has a special provision for setting up ‘Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH)’, for the conservation of the species.
    • It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST (Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes) and OTFD (Other Traditional Forest Dwellers).
    • 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.
      • 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.

Source: DTE

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