IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 15th December, 2016
TOPIC:General Studies 2
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Forests Rights Act- Stop the dilution of rights
In 2006, the historic Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed. The conception and passage was the result of the decades of struggles and sacrifices of millions of tribals across India, of their organisations, of numerous activists and intellectuals working on tribal issues.
During the colonial times, the colonial masters had turned tribal owners of the forests and its resources into encroachers.
Even before the Forest Rights Act was passed, there were successful attempts in diluting some important recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee on community forest rights, access to minor forest produce etc.
These were done by real encroachers and plunderers of the forests, the mining companies, the private power sector companies, those involved in irrigation projects, the timber and paper industries and the forest resort tourist industry.
The clause that Non-tribal Traditional Forest Dwellers would have to show evidence of their occupation of the land for 75 years virtually negated the inclusion of these largely poorer sections in the law.
Amending the bill
Few amendments which are being proposed to weaken the Act
Series of legislation
Various legislations were passed which undermined the rights and protections given to tribals in the FRA
Amendments to Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act and a host of amendments to the Rules to the FRA weakened the implementation of FRA.
It also included the condition of “free informed consent” from gram sabhas for any government plans to remove tribals from the forests and for the resettlement or rehabilitation package. In a start, the requirement of public hearings and gram sabha consent has been done away with for mid-sized coal mines.
Many states are working against the spirit of FRA.
In Andhra Pradesh, the government has issued orders to subvert FRA
In Telangana, the government has illegalised traditional methods of forest land cultivation.
In Jharkhand, government has brought amendments to the Chotanagpur and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts which eliminate rights of gram sabhas and permit tribal land to be taken over by corporates, real estate players, private educational and medical institutions in the name of development, without tribal consent.
In Maharashtra, the government has issued a notification of “Village Rules” which gives all rights of forest management to government-promoted committees as opposed to the gram sabha.
For ‘ease of doing’ business, the government policy translates into clearing all private sector-sponsored projects in tribal-inhabited forest areas.
The National Board for Wildlife, with the Prime Minister as Chairperson, was reconstituted, slashing the number of independent experts from 15 members to three. This Board cleared 33 out of 41 proposals diverting over 7,000 hectares of forest land in 2014 itself.
In almost all these projects, the affected tribal families have not yet received their pattas (land ownership documents), one of the conditions set by the FRA.
Thus, this wilful disregard and blatant violation of the legal protections given to tribals has become the cornerstone of the policy.
There is very less or no actual implementation happening on ground.
Neither individual pattas nor pattas for community forest resources are being given.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests is rejecting such claims. According to one analysis, between May 2015 and April 2016, eight out of every 10 claims were rejected.
MoTA, the nodal ministry for FRA and the spokesperson for Adivasi interests, is yet to effectively address the hollowing out of this crucial law.
Role of judiciary
The role of judiciary is very important. It gave tribals hope through the Samata judgment and the historic Niyamgiri judgment.
Recently, in a writ petition by filed by Wildlife Trust of India and others, the court issued notice to all State governments to “file an affidavit giving data regarding the number of claims rejected within the territory of the State and the extent of land over which such claims were made and rejected and the consequent action taken up by the State after rejection of the claims”.
The government should not view FRA as a roadblock to development but as a means to achieve a more just, democratic and ecologically informed conversation around mining.
It has to admit that the knowledge base of local communities, which interact most intimately with the forests, is of value in decision-making.
The 2013 SC order observed: “…we have realised that forests have the best chance to survive if communities participate in their conservation and regeneration.”
The FRA mandated Gram Sabhas, if nurtured seriously as an institution of local governance, they can be a vital mechanism to outline the full costs and gains of mining, and more crucially, how these get distributed.
Till 1985, the department of “Tribal Affairs” was under the Home Ministry. Tribal rights and struggles for justice were viewed as a “law and order issue, always a problem”. Hence, in these forthcoming period, this retrograde approach should not be resurrected.
Though are inadequacies in the Bill, the Forest Rights Act is a powerful instrument to protect the rights of tribal communities. It stops the private companies and mining firms to invade into the tribal properties and plunder India’s mineral resources.
An attempt to dilute the laws passed by Parliament and to create laws that allow for easier acquisition of land for various activities seem to be driven by convenience notwithstanding the fact that conflicts over land forcibly acquired and pending claims are a reality and are not likely to disappear even if attempts are made to dilute existing laws.
Hence, a consensual approach should be followed by the departments (Tribal and Environment) to uphold the rights of the tribals and communities.
Connecting the dots:
What are the problems faced in successful implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006? Examine.
Forest Rights Act is game changer in life of tribals and their development prospects if implemented as envisaged. Comment.