Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized on the idea that the tribal people should get their titles with regards to their forest land according to Forest Rights Act, 2006. A committee is proposed to be set up to monitor its implementation. The implementation process is discouraging with out of about 41 Lakhs claims, only 16 Lakh being settled so far. But it has been good in states like Tripura.
Forest Rights during colonial period
- In colonial era, forests have all been declared to be owned by the government and people living on forest produce, living along the forest were labelled as trespassers (Compare it with Santhal Revolt of 1855 for more clarity of thought).
Forest Rights post-independence
- After independence, the National Forest Policywas adopted which paved the way for many community forest management programmes like Joint Forest Management and Community Forest Management Programmes were implemented from 1990 onwards with people participation.
- Many forests have degraded and course correction started in 1990 onwards built the idea across the 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.
Forest Rights of Tribal people
- Forest department declares a forest as a reserve forest or protected area or tiger reserve when the people’s rights are in danger. Such an alienation forms the basis for the act which tries to restore the lost rights to these communities who are the legitimate beneficiaries of the land.
- Historically there was a collective ownership of land. That collective ownership was denied to the tribal people for many decades. The Forest Rights Act tries to restore this situation.
- The biggest problem in implementation of such programmes is ‘lack of promotion’ of forest rights of tribal people carried in the legislation, which leads to ignorance at the root level. Community rights will help the individuals and better guarantee for protecting and sustaining the forest.
- Individual ownership 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, which prevents pressure on the land.
- There is 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.
Rights under the Act
- Title rights – i.e. ownership to land being farmed by tribal people 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.
How does Community participation help in forest conservation?
- Community participation in forest conservation has led to the development and extracting of forest resources like minor forest produce in a sustainable way, which was otherwise deteriorating.
- The degraded forest has 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.
- Forest Rights Act has recognized the legitimate rights of forest dwellers including the tribal people. The tribal people do not own any land like other communities who are living in villages and have no other livelihood.
- The communities who live in the forest are the best people at the root of the situation to protect the dwindling forests and forest resources. Even the Government has realised that only the forest guards and the forest administrators would not be able to protect the forest.
- Large scale community participation at all levels have reiterated the belief in the strength of mass participation as an essential pre-requisite for forest protection and conservation. It has restored even the degenerated forest and pursuing sustainable utilisation of resources.
It is the duty of the State to protect the forest rights of the tribal people under Schedule 6 and Article 46 of the Constitution of India. A balanced growth requires equitable distribution of resources as enshrined in our Preamble itself. We shall strive to work in tandem with the tribal communities for the optimum utilisation of our resources. Moreover, a marginalised grouping rearranges itself and poses a threat to the peace and security of the nation, hence, India cannot afford to alienate such communities any further at least for the sake of political stability of the country.