New Guidelines By Ministry Of Tribal Affairs / Forests Right Act .
Q. Why is this in news?
Gram Sabhas will have more power in the management of community forest rights (CFR) and habitat rights, according to new guidelines drafted by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) in December 2020.
An increased representation of various user groups such as the graziers, minor forest produce collectors, women and other groups dependent on forest including hamlets also find mention in the two drafts.
The drafts were prepared by the two committees formed by MoTA in February 2020.
According to the draft, the Gram Sabhas will:
Integrate the committees that it has had traditional rights with for protection of wildlife, forest and biodiversity, catchment areas, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas
Be empowered to carry out the powers and authority as laid down under section 5 of FRA
File complaint before the state level monitoring committee (SLMC) under section 7 and 8 of the Act in case of any violation
Make rules and issue appropriate directions for governance and conservation of CFR, including functions of CFRMC; conflict / dispute resolution; benefit sharing; issuance of transit permit; fund management and etc., regulating powers, functions and activities of the CFRMC
Make rules or issue directions for management of fund generated from various sources
Approve CFR conservation and management plan / strategies / actions prepared / suggested by the CFRMC. If required, the Gram Sabha can modify suggested plans / actions / strategies including CFR conservation and management plans
Appoint any person or hire any institution for extending support to the Gram Sabha for preparation of CFR conservation and management plan, financial management system or activities coming under the purview of the Gram Sabha
Resolve any conflict or dispute related to the CFR governance and management
Q. What is Forest Rights Act, 2006?
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 encompasses Rights of Self-cultivation and Habitation which are usually regarded as Individual rights; and Community Rights as Grazing, Fishing and access to Water bodies in forests, Habitat Rights for PVTGs, Traditional Seasonal Resource access of Nomadic and Pastoral community, access to biodiversity, community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge, recognition of traditional customary rights and right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource for sustainable use.
It also provides rights to allocation of forest land for developmental purposes to fulfil basic infrastructural needs of the community. 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 without rehabilitation and settlement.
The Act further enjoins upon the Gram Sabha and rights holders the responsibility of conservation and protection of bio-diversity, wildlife, forests, adjoining catchment areas, water sources and other ecologically sensitive areas as well as to stop any destructive practices affecting these resources or cultural and natural heritage of the tribals.
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.
Q. What are the 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.
Q. What are the features of this act?
The act recognizes and vest the forest rights and occupation in Forest land to forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who have been residing in such forests for generations.
The act also establishes the responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance of FDST and OTFD.
It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST and OTFD.
It seeks to rectify colonial injustice to the FDST and OTFD who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.
Q. What are the types of rights recognized by the act?
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, to pastoralist routes, etc.
3. Relief and development rights: To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
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.
Q. Who can claim these Rights?
Members or community of the 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) prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in forests land for bona fide livelihood needs.
Q. Which is the authority responsible for it?
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.
Q. What is the procedure for it?
First, the gram sabha makes a recommendation â€“ i.e who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce is collected, etc. The gramsabhaâ€™s recommendation goes through two stages of screening committees at the taluka and district levels.
The district level committee makes the final decision Finally, land recognised under this Act cannot be sold or transferred.
Q. What is its Importance?
The acts look to right the wrongs of government policies in both colonial and independent India toward forest-dwelling communities, whose claims over their resources were taken away during 1850s.
The act also has potential of sustainably protecting forest through traditional ways along with providing tribes means of livelihood.
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.
The alienation of tribes was one of the factors behind the Naxal movement, which affects states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand. The act through identifying IFR and CFR tries to provide inclusion to tribes.
It has the potential to democratise forest governance by recognising 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 act will ensure that people get to manage their forest on their own which will regulate exploitation of forest resources by officials, forest governance and management as well as tribal rights etc.
Q. What are the issues and challenges ahead?
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.
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.
Dilution of Act Certain sections of environmentalist raise the concern that FRA bend more in the favor 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.
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.
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 communitiesâ€™ claims under the FRA makes the process both cumbersome and harrowing for illiterate tribals.
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.s Right Act.