Forest Rights Act

  • The implementation process is quite slow though it has been good in state like Tripura. Out of about 41 Lakh claims, so far only 16 lakh claims have been settled.
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 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.
Why this law was necessary?
What are called “forests” in Indian law often have nothing to do with actual forests. Under the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be “government forests” without recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the forest and so on. 82% of Madhya forest blocks and 40% of Orissa’s reserved forests were never surveyed; similarly 60% of India’s national parks have till today not completed their process of enquiry and settlement of rights. As the Tiger Task Force of the Government of India put it, “in the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme.” Hence, this was law necessary.
Various factors that have prevented the proper implementation of the FRA since its passage in 2006 include:
  1. Process of documenting communities’ claims: The process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA is intensive — rough maps of community and individual claims are prepared democratically by Gram Sabhas. These are then verified on the ground with annotated evidence, before being submitted to relevant authorities.
The Gram Sabha is treated as a public authority under the FRA, and if the higher authorities under the law reject its claims, substantive reasons have to be provided for doing so. This exhaustive process is why the official diktat to implement the FRA so quickly lacks any understanding about the extent of the task and labour involved.
  1. Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control: Another main factor inhibiting the FRA’s full implementation is the reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control. The forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an instrument to regularise encroachment. This is seen in its emphasis on recognising individual claims while ignoring collective claims — Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights as promised under the FRA — by tribal communities. To date, the total amount of land where rights have been recognised under the FRA is just 3.13 million hectares, mostly under claims for individual occupancy rights.
  2. Narrow interpretation of the FRA: The narrow interpretation of the FRA is also to be blamed. It is against the letter and spirit of the law, which seeks to undo historical injustices and return the forests to community jurisdiction. It also contradicts the estimates for forest area collectively used by tribal and other forest communities that are provided by government agencies themselves.
  3. Environment Ministry’s moves: The Environment Ministry’s conduct also causes concern. Entrusted with stewarding our forests, it has instead concentrated great energy on how to hasten their felling (through the forest clearances it awards). In doing this, it appears that it has, among other things, mounted a prolonged effort to see if and how meaningful community participation can be eliminated from the clearance process.
Recognising Forest Rights to tribal :
  • The forest department declares forest as reserve forest or protected area or tiger reserve where the people’s rights were negated. This alienation forms the basis for the act which tries to restore the lost rights to these communities who are supposed to be the beneficiaries.
  • Historically tribal didn’t own land individually, it was a collective ownership. That collective ownership was denied for many decades. The Forest Rights Act tries to restore and course correct the situation. According to the data the individual claims are more than the community claim. Many communities are not aware of the new changes made in the Forest Rights Act. People are not sufficiently empowered to make use of it.
  • There are many problems at the implementation level. One such problem is that many states have not sufficiently advertised and generated awareness among people about the community claims. Community rights will help the individuals and better guarantee for protecting and sustaining the forest.
  • The land becomes an important resource. Ownership of land at individual level is becoming increasingly important. This has begun even in tribal areas. At individual level they can make a claim for agricultural usage, but at community level the claim is for grazing land which is for common purpose. Allowing forest land for grazing purpose is like recognising the already existing practice.    
  • Many NGO’s and community based organisations are making a specific demand for the collective claims which have to be recognised and settled. The government has all the data required to do this and can encourage the villagers through Gram Sabha to make those claims. The initiative has to be from the government side.
Community participation in Forest Conservation :
  • Until people were involved in planning and implementation of forest conservation, development and extracting forest resources like minor forest produce in a sustainable way, the situation was deteriorating.
  • Joint Forest Management Programmes which started involving people in restoring degraded forest. The degraded forest have been regenerated, the land lost to cultivation has been restored to the forest land. Also the resources that were dwindling in forest areas with deforestation have been improved. The forest cover has been considerably increased post Joint Forest Management Programme implementation.
  • The importance of Forest Rights Act is that it is recognising the legitimate rights of forest dwellers including the tribal. The tribal do not own any land like other communities who are living in villages and have no other livelihood.
  • The government had recognised that the only way to protect forest is through the communities who live in and around the forest. The forest guards and the forest administrators would not be able to protect the forest. Community participation is required for the forests to survive.
  • In the forest conservation development programmes people have demonstrated that they are in favour of protection and conservation of forests. They have contributed immensely to restore the degenerated forest. They are conserving the forest resource in a sustainable manner.
It has been studied that Forests Rights Act have not been fully implemented due to various factors. Critically examine these factors and suggest what needs to be done. (200 Words)
The Forest Rights Act has tried to undo the historic injustice done to the forest dweller and tribals. It recognizes the customary right of tribal over the forest land. But this Progressive legislation is also suffering from implementation deficit.
The reasons for non-implementation or slow implementation are:
  1. State government, due to lack of political will, have deliberately delayed the notification of rules and regulation.
  2. The forest bureaucracy’s non-responsive attitude. They have vested interest in non-implementation and they don’t want to lose their hold.
  3. The process of reorganization of rights is intensive involving documentation by gram sabha, their subsequent approval by higher authorities.
  4. The absence of documentary proof and lack of reliable data (maps, ownership records, residence proofs etc.) further complicated the process of recognition of customary ownership rights.
  5. While Individual rights have been recognized in many places, but process of granting community ownership rights is very slow. This defeats the whole purpose of act.
To ensure the effective implementation of FRA, following steps should be taken:
  1. Central government should set clear targets and their attainment should be incentivised by fiscal incentives.
  2. The up gradation of technology including digitalized mapping, GIS to map area ( in decision making process as well as in monitoring) etc. can speed up the process.
  3. Capacity building of Gram Sabha with necessary technical help should be provided by Central government or Civil Society organizations.
  4. Reform in Forest Bureaucracy to make them responsive and breaking the contractor forest official nexus is required. Use of ICT in decision making to make process transparent is required.
  5. Granting of community Ownership should be prioritized by notifying guidelines on same.
Political will combined with responsive and empathetic approach to implementation can ensure effective implementation of FRA
Gram Sabha mandated by the landmark Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA), are crucial in implementing FRA act and in preserving forests and livelihood of people living there. Discuss their significance and the challenges they are facing in different parts of India in their functioning. (200 Words)
Significance of Gram Sabha (GS) mandated by FRA-2006 as crucial implementing machinery :
  1. Accountability : GS consisting of Adivasis & Forest dwellers makes conservation of forest more accountable.
  2. Democratic : FRA’s rights recognition method reflect the democratic way where GS is central.
  3. Mutual Trust & Coordination : GS is vital in maintaining the mutual trust & coordination between local communities & Forest Officers.
  4. Decision Making : GS paves way for local communities to have say in projects carried out in their region.
  5. Project Sustainability : GS ensures local communities & resources to participate in project implementation which ensures its sustainability.
  6. Empowerment of Local People : GS helps Local people to be more aware & informed about various projects. Better informed & more aware people are more likely to benefit from the projects.
# Challenges that GSs are facing in their functioning :
  1. Bypassing GS : GS are illegally being bypassed by the Joint Forest Management Commitees (JFMCs) & Forest Department.
  2. Forged Clearance : If not being able to bypass, their role is eliminated through forged clearances.
  3. GPs instead of GSs : There are instances where Gram Panchayats (GPs) are deliberately called instead of GS, ignoring the more democratic process.
  4. Contrary Forest Legislations : Some states have also passed controversial forest legislation to subvert the FRA’s primacy given to GS. Ex : Madhya Pradesh.
  5. Illegal Central Government Programmes : such as Joint Forest Management & Afforestation programme where most of the plantation is being done on local people’s land & such programmes violate FRA & ignore GS’s role.
All above problems being faced by GS highlights lack of political will to implement FRA in true spirits. This can only be corrected if our leadership recognises FRA & Local People not as roadblock but a facilitator to sustainable development.

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