Forest Rights Act
What is Forest Rights Act?
What is it?
In the colonial era, the British diverted abundant forest wealth of the nation to meet their economic needs. While procedure for settlement of rights was provided under statutes such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, these were hardly followed. As a result, tribal and forest-dwelling communities, who had been living within the forests in harmony with the environment and the ecosystem, continued to live inside the forests in tenurial insecurity, a situation which continued even after independence as they were marginalised. The symbiotic relationship between forests and forest-dwelling communities found recognition in the National Forest Policy, 1988. The policy called for the need to associate tribal people in the protection, regeneration and development of forests. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood.
What does the Forest Rights Act do?
The Act basically does two things:
- 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.
Rights under the Act:
- Title rights –e. 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.
- Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
- Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
- Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.
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.
What did the order say?
- On February 13, 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.
- It ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the “encroachment positions.”
What is the problem?
- The February 13 order is based on affidavits filed by the States. The affidavits, however, do not make clear whether the due process of law was observed before the claims were rejected.
- The Centre argues that the rejection of claims is particularly high in the States hit by Left-Wing Extremism, where 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.
What lies ahead?
On February 28, the court stayed its order, though it said “the mighty and the undeserving” who have encroached on forest land would be shown no mercy. It has decided to examine whether due process was followed by the gram sabhas and the States under the Forest Rights Act before the claims were rejected..