Forest Rights Act : Challenges – UPSC GS2

Forest Rights during colonial period :
  • The Forest Rights Act, 2006 is a radical change in the sense that during colonial time forests have all been declared to be owned by government and people living on forest produce, living along the forest suddenly became trespasses. The reality on ground is that these people are not intruders, they have been living in the forest traditionally for generations.
  • If we trace the rights of the people over forest, it was during the colonial period the people had lost their rights.
Forest Rights after Independence :
  • Post-Independence the National Forest Policy was adopted, subsequently community forest management programmes like Joint Forest Management and Community Forest Management Programmes were implemented from 1990 onwards with people participation. Until then there was mistrust about how forests are being managed and people felt alienated especially in forest areas where tribals are living in large numbers.
  • Post-Independence most of the forests have degraded and when the government started course correction in 1990 onwards we are coming across the idea of people’s rights over forest land and forest resources. There has been a long struggle for the land that they are dependent for their livelihood and survival.
Basics about Forest Rights Act (FRA):
  • The legislation was passed in December 2006
  • It concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.
  • The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
Rights under the Act:
  • Title rights: i.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:
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.
Why Forest Rights Act is needed?
  • A majority of the tribal communities in India are poor and landless. They practice small-scale farming, pastoralism, and nomadic herding.
  • On the Human Development Index, the tribal-populated States always rank lower than the national average.
  • Acknowledging their poor status, the government passed the forest rights act to improve their livelihood.
  • However, even after 15 years, the Implementation of the Forest rights act is faced with many challenges resulting.
What are the issues in implementation?
  • Act requires the constitution of a Forest Rights Committee comprising members from within the village by conducting a Gram Sabha with two-thirds of the members present at the meetingThis process is not followed in many places.
    • Reasons:
      • These committees were mostly constituted by the Panchayat Secretaries upon the directives received from District Magistrates at short notice.
      • The nominations for members for the taluk-level and district-level committees were also not transparent.
  • The FRA provides for equal rights in titles issued under the Act for women. They have the equitable role at every stage of decision-making. However, on the ground, the women were hardly visible in this regard.
  • In the initial stages of implementation, there was an insistence on satellite images as evidence while other admissible proofs were ignored, as happened in Gujarat. This resulted in mass rejections of claims by the authorities.
  • Various welfare and developmental schemes of the Rural Department were not extended everywhere to the tribal people who received documents of land possession under the FRA. Despite the directives issued by the Ministry to treat them on a par with others.
  • Poor awareness levels of FR act among the tribal people is also an issue, especially in the scheduled areas which are remotely located. To effectively present claims, a fair understanding of the Act and its implementation process is necessary.
  • Involvement of NGOs was missing in some interior areas in States like Chhattisgarh, where the insurgency was affecting the lives of the people. Evidence suggests that implementation was better in areas that were fairly close to urban settings or where accessibility was easy.
Problems faced by Tribals:
  • Tribal areas are witnessing a decline in the quality of forest produce in their vicinity, thus forcing them to look for other sources of livelihood.
  • Earnings from activities such as a collection of tendu leaves for rolling local cigars were affected due to the influx of laborers from Bihar who were willing to work for low wages. For ex, Chhattisgarh.
  • Poor market and exploitation by local traders/middlemen.
  • They possess lands (including the lands recognised under the FRA) that are small, of poor quality (particularly lands located on hill slopes), and are not very fertile.
  • To enhance their income, they migrate to work as construction or road-laying labourers.
  • Due to the quality of education received by the youth in the remote districts, the possibility of acquiring meaningful jobs remains thin.