Context: TheScheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) and its importance.
More in news:
- On February 13, 2019, the Supreme Court while hearing a petition filed by wildlife conservationists and former forest department officials, directed state governments to evict “encroachers” or the “illegal” forest dwellers. The verdict directly affects about 8 per cent of the country’s population, close to 2 million forest dwellers.
- After 15 days, on February 28, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), the nodal agency to implement FRA, intervened with a review petition. The apex court stayed its own order.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) and its importance:
- Aim: FRA was intended to address the ‘historical injustice’ to India’s ‘traditional forest dwellers’.
- FRA is crucial to the rights of millions of tribal and other forest dwellers in different parts of our country as it provides for the restitution of deprived forest rights across India, including both individual rights to cultivated land in forestland and community rights over common property resources.
- FRA is potential tool:
- To empower and strengthen the local self governance.
- To address the livelihood security of the people, leading to poverty alleviation and pro poor growth.
- To address the issues of Conservation and management of the Natural Resources and conservation governance of India.
- Significance of the Act: The Act is significant as it provides scope and historic opportunity of integrating conservation and livelihood rights of the people.
- For the first time Forest Rights Act recognizes and secures.
- Community Rights or rights over common property resources of the communities in addition to their individual rights.
- Rights in and over disputed land Rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, un-surveyed villages and other villages in forests into revenue villages.
- Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which the communities have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
- Right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity.
- Rights of displaced communities.
- Rights over developmental activities.
- The Act recognizes –
- individual rights to forest land and livelihood
- community rights to forest ‘land’ exercised by their gram sabha
- community forest ‘resource’ rights, giving gram sabhas the power to protect and manage their forest
- Recognized tribes are entitled to responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance
- It has the provision for creating critical wildlife habitats within protected areas which currently is the strongest conservation provision among existing laws of the country.
Present legal challenges:
- Poor and tardy implementation of FRA: FRA has not been implemented properly due to lack of political commitment; lack of adequate human and financial resources with the Department of Tribal Affairs.
- Forced eviction: Judgment led to forced eviction of about two million people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and other forest communities.
- Against constitutional provisions: Around 60% of the forest area in the country is in tribal areas. These are protected by Article 19(5) and Schedules V and VI of the Constitution; the area marked for eviction falls under these. It specifically mentions that the State had to make laws for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe. So the Court’s order is a disregard for this core fundamental right protection to Adivasis. In fact, it is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional claims and equal citizenship.
- The FRA has tremendous potential to strengthen the conservation regime across India by recognizing rights of forest dwellers over land and community forest resources.
- By democratizing forest governance and conservation through the provision of rights and authority to local communities and gram sabhas for conservation and management of forests, the FRA will empower gram sabhas of the forest dwelling communities to halt the destruction of forests.
- To achieve conservation justice, FRA must be implemented in letter and spirit along with showing empathy for the forest dwellers.
- Cutting down the Forests Right Act will only weaken the conservation regime and affect the rights of forest dwellers, government must work towards filling the gaps rather than choosing forced eviction.