Forest Rights Act, 2006- What has been achieved so far?

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Relevance:
Mains: 

  • GS I-Poverty & developmental issues
  • GSII- Mechanisms, laws, institutions & bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections.
  • GSIII-Inclusive growth & issues arising from it; Environmental conservation; Linkages btw development & spread of extremism.
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 to assert their rights over the forest land over which they were traditionally dependent.
  • The forest management policies in both colonial and post-colonial India, did not, till the enactment of this Act, recognize the symbiotic relationship of the STs with the forests, reflected in their dependence on the forest as well as in their traditional wisdom regarding the conservation of the forests.
  • The act has finally paved the way to undo the ‘historic injustice’ done to the tribals and other forest dwellers.  
Objectives of the act
  • To undo the historical injustice occurred to the forest-dwelling communities
  • To ensure land tenure, livelihood and food security of the forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers
  • To strengthen the conservation regime of the forests by including the responsibilities and authority on Forest Rights holders for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of ecological balance.
Features of the act
  • The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest-dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation, and other socio-cultural needs.
  • The act identifies four types of rights:

    1. 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.
    2. Use rights:
      • The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas, pastoralist routes, etc.
      • Rights of Self-cultivation and Habitation which are usually regarded as Individual rights
      • Community Rights or rights over common property resources such as Grazing, Fishing and access to Water bodies in forests
      • Habitat Rights for PVTGs
      • Traditional Seasonal Resource access of Nomadic and Pastoral community
    3. Relief and development rights:
      • To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
      • Rights in and over disputed land
      • Rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, un-surveyed villages and other villages in forests into revenue villages
      • Rights to the allocation of forest land for developmental purposes to fulfill the basic infrastructural needs of the community.
    4. 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.
      • Recognition of traditional customary rights
      • Right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity.
  • The Act enjoins upon the Gram Sabha and rights holders the responsibility of
    • Conservation and protection of biodiversity, wildlife, forests, adjoining catchment areas, water sources, and other ecologically sensitive areas
    • To stop any destructive practices affecting these resources or the cultural and natural heritage of the tribals.

Who can claim these Rights?

  • Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs.
  • It can also be claimed by any member or community who has for at least three generations (75 years) before the 13th day of December 2005 primarily resided in forest land for bona fide livelihood needs.
  • 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.

Role of Gram Sabha:

  • The biggest game-changer in FRA is the gram sabha is given the right to protect and manage their forest.
  • No project can come up in the forest nor can any conservation plan for the forest be carried out without the approval of the gram sabha.
  • 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.

Procedure to claim rights:

  • First, the gram sabha makes a recommendation – i.e who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce is collected, etc. The gram sabha plays this role because it is a public body where all people participate, and hence is fully democratic and transparent.
  • 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. The Committees have six members – three government officers and three elected persons.
  • At both the taluka and the district levels, any person who believes a claim is false can appeal to the Committees, and if they prove their case the right is denied.
  • Finally, land recognized under this Act cannot be sold or transferred.

Significance of the act
  • This Act is crucial to the rights of millions of tribals and other forest dwellers in different parts of our country as it provides for the restitution of deprived forest rights across India, including both individual rights to cultivated land in forestland and community rights over common property resources.
  • The livelihood of perhaps 100 million poorest of the poor stands to improve if the implementation can succeed.
  • The Act is significant as it provides scope and historic opportunity of integrating conservation and livelihood rights of the people.
  • 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.
  • In conjunction with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Settlement Act, 2013 FRA protects the tribal population from eviction.
  • This Act will be a potential tool
    • To empower and strengthen the local self-governance
    • To address the livelihood security of the people, leading to poverty alleviation and pro-poor growth
    • To address the issues of Conservation and management of the Natural Resources and conservation governance of India.

 

 Forest Rights Act (FRA) vs CAMPA
  • Under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the government collects money for diverting forest land for non-forest purposes such as industrial projects like mining or dams.
  • The funds have to be used for carrying out compensatory afforestation across the country. 
  • Under Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Rules, 2018, the Gram Sabha no longer plays a key role, and control of funds to be spent on afforestation is given in the hands of the forest bureaucracy.
  • Rules don’t have provision for getting the consent of the Gram Sabhas (only mention consultation) and provision for transferring funds to the Gram Sabha. 
  • The Forest Rights Act (FRA) gives rights to the Gram Sabha and this violates that law.
  • Environmentalists and civil society groups are against the rules as they point out that the rules ignore the rights of forest dwellers and tribals.
  • The new CAF rules are against existing laws ensuring forest rights and self-governance for communities living in Scheduled Areas.

 

Achievements of forest rights act
  • It successfully reduced the alienation of tribes, which was one of the factors behind the Naxal movement, which affects states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Jharkhand.
  • It democratized forest governance by recognizing 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 rights of collecting Minor forest produce has enhanced the livelihood of tribals.
  • A cluster of 12 villages, about 80 km from Korba city, have made use of FRA provisions to stand up to the forest department on different issues
  • Chhattisgarh’s Korba district is rich in coal reserves and is known as the power generation capital of the state.
  • The authority of gram sabha was upheld in a historic ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013, which gave 12 affected gram sabha the right to decide on a bauxite mining project of Vedanta group in Niyamgiri, Odisha.

Issues with the act
  • Frequent violation of the act
    • Implementation of the act remains the biggest challenge.
    • Illegal encroachments have happened on large scale.
    • The forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an instrument to regularise encroachment instead of a welfare measure for tribals.
    • In Chhattisgarh, the land had been diverted for the project in 2012 without completion of the FRA process and seeking the gram sabha’s approval.
  • Not following due process of law
    • Rejection of claims is particularly high in the States hit by Left-Wing Extremism, where the tribal population is high.
    • The forest land claims of these tribes and forest-dwellers are mostly rejected by the States.
    • Being poor and illiterate, living in remote areas, they do not know the appropriate procedure for filing claims.
    • The gram sabhas, which initiate the verification of their claims, are low on awareness of how to deal with them.
    • The rejection orders are not even communicated to these communities.
  • Denial of claims and eviction
    • Chhattisgarh, where tribals account for a third of the population compared with the national average of 8.6%, has so far denied more than a half of individual rights claims and more than a third of community rights claims.
    • In 2019, the Supreme Court 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
  • Diluting powers of Gram Sabha
    • One of the biggest hurdles for FRA is that states like Maharashtra, among the better performers, and Odisha are introducing policies that will help the forest department retain control of forest resources through joint forest management committees or similar bodies, which will dilute the powers of the gram sabha.
    • 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.
  • Concerns of wildlife activists
    • They claim that this act further encourages encroachment of forests in the name of tribal rights.
    • Because forests can be converted into revenue villages and the development activities can take place in forests.
    • 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 control over forest resources which remains a significant portion of forest revenue-making states wary of vesting forest rights to Gram Sabha.

Way forward
  • As tribals are not a big vote bank in most states, governments might find it convenient to subvert FRA.
  • Hence the Centre must take a more proactive role in pushing states to honour a law that could change the lives of millions.
  • Large-scale awareness and information dissemination campaigns are required at the 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.
  • Proper implementation of this act will lead to the development and integration of tribals in the mainstream society, and also conserving the forests.



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