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Forest Rights Act 2006

Forest Rights Act 2006

Introduction

  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is a result of the protracted struggle by the marginal and tribal communities of India to assert their rights over the forestland over which they were traditionally dependent.

About Forest Rights Act, 2006

  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act (or the Forest Rights Act or FRA) was enacted in 2006 and came into force in 2008.
  • The Act aims at addressing the historic injustice done to the forest dwellers by recognising forest land, resources, and resource management and conservation rights of the forest dwelling communities.
  • FRA not only confers individuals’ title to habitat, but also aims to protect their tradition and culture by recognising their collective ownership over a larger landscape within or outside their traditional village territories.
  • The Act provides chiefly for two kinds of rights to tribals and other forest dwellers.
  • Individual rights over the dwelling and cultivation lands under their occupation.
  • The community tenure/ rights over ‘community forest resources’ on common forest land within the traditional and customary boundaries of the village.
  • However, the implementation of the Act in general and especially in Protected Areas (PAs) has been negligible.

Rights under the Act

  • Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
  • Title rights – Ownership to land that is being 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, meaning that no new lands are granted.
  • Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.
  • Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.

Objectives of FRA act 2006

  • To address the livelihood security of the people, leading to poverty alleviation and pro poor growth.
  • To empower and strengthen the local self-governance.
  • To Protect customary rights of the forest communities.
  • To address the issues of Conservation and management of the Natural Resources and conservation governance of India.
  • To Protect traditional knowledge and intellectual property relating to biodiversity and cultural diversity.
  • To Provide for basic developmental facilities for the forest villages.

Eligibility

  • Eligibility to get rights under the Act is confined to those who “primarily reside in forests” and who depend on forests and forest land for a livelihood. Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.

Process Of Recognition Of Rights

  • The Act provides that the gram sabha, or village assembly, will initially pass a resolution recommending whose rights to which resources should be recognised.
  • This resolution is then screened and approved at the level of the sub-division (or taluka) and subsequently at the district level.
  • The screening committees consist of three government officials (Forest, Revenue and Tribal Welfare departments) and three elected members of the local body at that level. These committees also hear appeals.

History Of Centralized Control Of Forests In India

  • Indian Forest Act of 1865: Empowered the colonial government to declare any forest land as government forest.
  • Indian Forest Act of 1878: Classified forests into ‘protected forests’, ‘reserved forests’ and village forests’.
  • The National Forest Policy of 1894: Re-iterated the regulation of rights and restriction of privileges of users in forest areas for the public good.
  • The Land Acquisition Act of 1894: Permits compulsory acquisition of land for a ‘public purpose’.
  • Indian Forest Act, 1927: replaced the earlier 1878 Act with the aim of consolidating the law relating to forests, transit of forest produce and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
  • The Government of India Act 1935: Consolidated the power of the state on forests so as to meet the requirements of the British industry, military and commerce.
  • National Forest Policy of 1952: Converted certain concessions enjoyed by tribals for long by withdrawing the release of forest land for cultivation, controlling free grazing, encouraging tribals to do away with the practice of shifting cultivation.
  • National Commission on Agriculture (NCA) 1976: Recommended that forests be managed efficiently for commercial purposes, though the it became silent about the traditional rights of tribals.
  • 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution: The Government of India deleted forests from the State list and entered it under the concurrent list in 1976.
  • Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980: Identified environmental protection and recognition of the rights of the tribal communities as mutually incompatible objectives.
  • The National Forest Policy 1988: Focuses on environmental stability through the preservation of forests by replacing contractors by tribal co-operatives, gave concession to ethnic minorities and provided suitable alternatives for shifting cultivators.

Challenges

  • 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.
  • Administrative Apathy
    • Implementation of the act remains the biggest challenge as acts related to the environment are not entirely compliant with the law, illegal encroachments have happened as much as that claims have been unfairly rejected.
    • 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.
  • Dilution of Act
    • Certain sections of environmentalist raise the concern that FRA bend 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.
  • 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.
    • Intensive process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA makes the process both cumbersome and harrowing for illiterate tribals.
  • Reluctance Of The Forest Bureaucracy To Give Up Control
    • There has been deliberate sabotage by the forest bureaucracy, both at the Centre and the states, and to some extent by big corporates.
    • 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.

Conclusion | Forest Rights Act 2006

  • The government of India views MFP rights as a means to curb Naxalism since the states most affected by Naxalism are also home to the maximum number of people dependent on forest produce.
  • The recognition of CFR rights would shift forest governance in India towards a community conservation regime that is more food security and livelihood oriented.
  • 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. In most of the areas, both the officials and beneficiaries are unaware of this fact.
  • Centre should take more proactive role in pushing states to honour a law that could change the lives of millions.

 

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