Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
The NDA government seems to be eager to implement Forest Rights Act which includes the rights of traditional forest dwellers. The PM has reiterated that tribals should get titles under Forest Rights Act which was legislated in 2006. The tribal affairs minister Jual Oram has said that a committee will be set up to monitor implementation of titles given to communities and individuals. It has been noted that the implementation process has been quiet slow though it has been good in states like Tripura. It is now recognised that there are about 41 lakh claims being made by individuals as well as community. There are about 40 lakh individual claims and 1.1 lakh community claims. Out of these, the titles distributed till the end of July 2016 are approximately 16 lakh to individuals and 44000 titles to community.
The forest land of which the titles are distributed- 56 lakh acres distributed to individuals and communities have got 45 lakh acres through title settlement.
Forest Rights Act, 2006
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal agency for implementing the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
The Act seeks to recognize and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded.
The Ministry, to ensure that the intended benefits of this welfare legislation flow to the eligible forest dwellers, has also issued comprehensive guidelines to the State/UT Governments for better implementation of the Act.
The Forest right act 2006 is radical change. During colonial times, all the forests were declared government land and people who lived on the fringes of the forests became trespassers. Even after independence, after a long time the government realised they are residents and not intruders. They were living in forest for generations together and thus the law must confirm to the reality.
Change of concepts regarding use of forest
To trace the rights of people over forests and its resource, it needs to be looked into the colonial period where they lost their rights. Post-independence period, until National Forest Policy adapted and subsequently Forest Management Programmes like Joint Forest Management, Community Forest Management programmes were implemented from 1990 onwards with people’s participation. Until then, there was mistrust about how forests are being managed and people felt alienated. Most forests have been degraded during the colonial times and post colonial times.
When the government actually started course correction 1990 onwards, it was actually coming across this idea of people’s rights over forest land and resources. There is a very long history of struggle of people over land that is in their possession, the land they are dependent on their livelihood survival when the forest department declares is at reserve forest or protected area. The people’s rights were negated on many counts. There was so much alienation of people who were living in forest areas and surviving on forest resources for generations. This alienation forms the basis of the act which tries to restore lost community rights who are supposed to be custodians and beneficiaries.
People participation necessary to protect forests
The change in thinking has come about after a long time and it is good that it has come out at last. The reality is that because the traditional people have been kept out of forest, the people who are actual trespassers- the teak and timber lobby- would go and smuggle them as the government was unable to guard the forest. Now, it looks like the government has recognised that only way to protect forest is through communities which live in and around the forest as they are the best safeguards. This has been witnessed for decades that unless the people who have stake in the forest have been involved in planning and implementation in forest conservation, development and extracting forest resources- minor forest produce in a sustainable way, involved in management of forest, the situation was deteriorating.
The Joint forest management programme started involving people in restoring the degraded forest and the result is being seen in forests getting regenerated. Not only land that was lost to agriculture, cultivation has been restored to forest land but also the resources that were dwindling in forest areas with deforestation have improved. Thus, communities can do better than administration. For forests to survive, community participation has to be there. Forest cover has considerably increased post implementation.
Rights of forest dwellers
The focus of the act recognises the legitimate rights of forest dwellers including the tribals. Like other communities who are living in villages and they own land, the tribals have no land other than forest land. The situation became complicated as traditionally for centuries, tribals did not own land individually but collectively. This collective ownership was denied and not recognised for many decades. Now this act tries to restore or course correct the situation.
When the above mentioned statistics are analysed, the individual claims are more than community claims. But community claims have to be more. So the problem is that many communities have not made claims as they are not aware of the act. And even if they are aware, they are not sufficiently empowered to make use of it.
Many states have not sufficiently advertised amongst the people about the community claims to be made by them. Also, there are more individual claims as they are worried about life.
It is more important to recognise and settle the community rights as that will help individual and be a better guarantor for protecting and sustaining the forests. Many NGOs and coalition of people’s community, they are making specific demands like recognising the collective claims and settle it. The government- Forest department and revenue department have data of forest map and revenue map from where they can identify and encourage villages through Gram Sabha to make those claims. Even the forest department should be interested to settle this from government side. Hence, this initiative has to be from government side.
After the community claims have been settled, if there are few individuals who think their individual rights have not been given to them, then there will be less claims at individual level.
Community rights are very important. The communities are organised well enough to manage the individuals within the community. They have to share the forest land and the produce equitably amongst the community. The communities have been traditionally living in a structures which are still alive as wherever various forest conservation development programmes have been initiated, especially JFM and CFM, people have demonstrated that they are in favour of forest conservation. They have contributed immensely to change the deforested area under forest area. They know significance of this resource and they are conserving it in sustainable manner over generation. The problem is that now that land becomes a very important resource, ownership of land at individual level is becoming increasingly important. It has already began in tribal areas so it cant be denied there. But this doesn’t mean communities are disappearing. Community claim can be made from individual claim. At the individual level, they can claim for land for agricultural usage but at community level, it is for grazing land it as it is for common purpose. This is basic distinction. Hence, the most effective way of preserving communities and forests in country.
Connecting the dots:
What is the genesis of Forest Rights Act? Critically analyse the successful implementation of the act with respect to tribal rights.