Daily News Analysis

Forest Rights Act

14th September, 2021 Society

Figure 2: No Copyright Infringement Intended

Context:

  • Karnataka ranks ninth in terms of approving applications filed by the Scheduled Tribes (ST) and the Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
  • The state has so far received a total of 2,81,349 applications from the communities till February this year pertaining to 16,073 acres, of which 1,80,956 claims were rejected.
  • Andhra Pradesh tops the list when it comes to clearing applications from the communities seeking rights over forest land, followed by states like Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa and Gujarat which have expedited the process.

Government Comment:

  • Under the Forest Rights Act, OTFDs need to prove antecedents of three generations or 75 years of ownership of forest land prior to 2008 to claim rights over the forest land. 
  • The Gram Sabha is also a highly empowered body under the Act, enabling the tribal population to have a decisive say in the determination of local policies and schemes impacting them.
  • The sole responsibility of accepting the applications is not just with the Forest Department, District Committees too look into this
  • While most applications filed by STs have been settled, that is not the case with pleas submitted by those from OTFD communities. 

 

Forest Rights act:

-  The act recognises mainly two types of forest dewellers:

  1. Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribe
  2. Other traditional forest dewellers.

- It gives these communities the right to cultivate the land maximum upto 4 hectare.

Aims of act:

  • Grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
  • Makes a beginning towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation.

Types of Rights granted:

1. Land Rights:

  • Forest dewellers gets the right maximum upto 4 hectares.
  • The land cannot be sold or transferred to anyone except by inheritance.
  • Those who are cultivating land but don’t have document can claim up to 4 hectares, as long as they are cultivating the land themselves for a livelihood.

2. Use Rights:

  • Minor forest produce things like tendu patta, herbs, medicinal plants etc “that has been traditionally collected (see section 3(1) (c)). This does not include timber.
  • Grazing grounds and water bodies
  • Traditional areas of use by nomadic or pastoralist communities i.e. communities that move with their herds, as opposed to practicing settled agriculture.

3. Right to Protect and Conserve:

  • For the first time, this law also gives the community the right to protect and manage the forest.
  • Section 3(1) (i) provide a right and a power to conserve community forest resources.
  • Section 5 gives the community a general power to protect wildlife, forests, etc.

Proceedure of Rights:

  • The gram sabha (full village assembly, NOT the gram panchayat) makes a recommendation – i.e who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce is collected, etc.
  • The gram sabha’s recommendation goes through two stages of screening committees at the taluka and district levels.
  • The district level committee makes the final decision.
  • At both the taluka and the district levels, any person who believes a claim is false can appeal to the Committees.
  • One can’t appeal beyond the district level committee.

Importance of these Rights:

  • 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.
  • The act also has potential of sustainably protecting forest through traditional ways along with providing tribes means of livelihood.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It has the potential to democratise forest governance by recognising community forest resource rights over an estimated 85.6 million acres, thereby empowering over 200 million forest dwellers in over 1,70,000 villages.
  • The act will ensure that people get to manage their forest on their own which will regulate exploitation of forest resources by officials, forest governance and management as well as tribal rights etc.

Challenges :

  • The debate on the issue of the act leading to even more encroachment of already troubled forest lands has started.
  • Though the act tries to focus on the needs of the forest dwellers, it defeats the purpose when the eviction rate of families from these lands increases as their claims on these lands are not accepted by the government.
  • The role of the sub-divisional level committee is always questioned as they have been given the important right to make a decision on the needs and claims of the marginal communities on the piece of forest lands.
  • Issues have arisen from the part of forest departments who have been seen unwilling to give their forest lands. Role of forest department to let the forest dwellers sow in the forest the reap the benefits is criticized as tribes like Baigas have blamed the department to not support their claim over the land.
  • The tribes and communities also lack the capability to prove their occupancy over the forest land and the law turns out to be weak to strengthen their claim.
  • Government’s role of allowing commercial plantations in degraded land is also debated and questioned as the degraded land makes 40% of forests.

Supreme Court order on Forest rights implementation:

  • Court has ordered the eviction of lakhs belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) categories across 16 States, whose claim as forest-dwellers has been rejected under the Forest Rights Act.
  • It ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the “encroachment positions.”

Way Forward:

  • Awarding of the community rights must be increased to ensure well being of the forest.
  • Forest department must work in collusion with the tribals in seeking the sustainable development than acting as bureaucratic department.