Forest Rights Act 2006 – Features, Implementation, Challenges & Solutions

forest rights act 2006 upsc ias gk

The Supreme Court has recently directed the state governments to evict around 10 lakh forest dwelling communities whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act. This order may affect some of the country’s most vulnerable communities and their fundamental rights, therefore it needs a relook.

Forest Rights Act 2006 upsc ias

What is the Forest Rights Act, 2006?

  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act also known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was enacted by the Parliament in 2006 and was being enforced from 2008.
  • It is a result of the protracted struggle by the marginal and tribal communities of our country to assert their rights over the forestland over which they were traditionally dependent.
  • It seeks to undo the historical injustice inflicted upon the forest dwellers from the colonial period when their traditional rights were not recognised by the British Raj in the 1850s.

What is the background?

  • A large number of people particularly the scheduled tribes are living in and around forests for a long time in a symbiotic relationship. They have been entirely or partly dependent on forest for their livelihood. They have also been protecting and utilising the forests resource sustainably.
  • But, in modern times the focus completely turned from the forests being used as a resource base for the sustenance of local communities to a State resource for commercial interests and agriculture.
  • Several acts and policies of central government post-independence resulted in suppression of centuries old, customary use rights of local communities and increased the government’s control over all forests.
  • Moreover, after independence, the economic policies of the government led to the mushrooming of industries such as mining and other development activities which resulted in the large-scale displacement. It further alienated the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers from their age-old, symbiotic relationship with forests.
  • Considering the above situation and after several protest movements, the central government enacted the Forest Rights Act in 2006 which came into effect in 2008.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What are the salient features of the Forest Rights Act?

  • The Act recognises and provides the forest rights and the right to their occupation in forest land to the forest dwelling scheduled tribes.
  • It also encompasses other traditional forest dwellers who have been dwelling in such forests for generations whose rights could not be recorded.
  • It recognises:
    • Individual rights to forest land and livelihood. It includes the right to collect and sell minor forest produce (MFP).
    • Community rights to forest land exercised by their gram sabha.
    • Community forest resource (CFR) rights = giving gram sabhas have the power to protect and manage their forest. CFR rights apply not just to village forests, but also to protected forests, reserved forests (more restricted than protected forests), and even protected areas such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
  • Developments projects and conservation plans in these areas would need the approval of gram sabhas.
  • The Ministry of the Central Government dealing with Tribal Affairs or any officer or authority authorized by the Central Government on this behalf shall be the nodal agency for the implementation of the provisions of this Act.

How is the implementation?

Implementing safeguards: The enforcement of the safeguards provided in the Act has not been that satisfactory.

High rejection rate: There are huge procedural issues in processing/documenting the tribal claims to forest land = high rejection rate.

  • Until April 2016, only 40 percent of the claims received across the nation had been settled.
  • Of the 44 lakh claims submitted before authorities in various states, 20.5 lakh claims (46.5%) were rejected.
  • Adivasi communities in Chhattisgarh account for 1/3rd of the population. However, over half of the individual rights and a third of community rights were rejected.

Arbitrary rejections: Authorities have been rejecting the claims without providing valid reasons, or based on faulty interpretation of the FRA Act provisions, or simply because of the absence of evidence or the lack of GPS survey.

  • Moreover, the rejections are not being communicated to the claimants and their right to appeal is not being explained to them or facilitated for.
  • Therefore, just the rejection of claims by the state does not necessarily mean that their possession of land is a crime of “encroachment”.

What are the reasons for poor implementation?

  • Deficiency within Gram Sabha The Gram Sabha (village assembly) is the first tier of decision-making as per the Act. But in most of the states, the Gram Sabha do not have the desired infrastructure and technical know-how to keep these records. In many tribal areas, Gram Sabha is yet to be constituted.
  • Lack of regular elections in panchayats – In many states the panchayat system is not very strong and in some cases, the panchayat elections are not held regularly. In such areas, the Gram panchayats are not operational up to the desired level necessary for the implementation of the Act.
  • Ambiguity in the formation of Forest Rights Committee – Each village is to elect a committee of 10 15 people from its residents as a Forest Rights Committee, which will do the initial verification of claims and place its recommendations before the Gram Sabha. However, in most of the states, Gram panchayat responsible for the formation of the Forest Rights Committee comprising of these people are not efficient enough to implement the Act in letter and spirit.
  • A deliberate focus on individual rather than community rights – community forest management is the most sustainable and democratic model of forest governance. Still, the administrative machinery is found to be concentrating more on claims for individual user rights rather than community rights. So far, very few claims are filed under community rights and most of them have been neglected.
  • Lack of awareness and Illiteracy – The main target beneficiaries of this act are mostly illiterate and therefore filling and submission of forms regarding the claims becomes very difficult. In this case, many intermediaries with vested interests try to take advantage of the situation. Also, there is a severe lack of awareness about the provisions of the act not only among the beneficiaries but also among the officials in charge of implementing it.
  • Lack of land records as proof – As per the provision in Act it is the responsibility of the officials to provide required documents to the individual & communities as proof but it is not taken up by the concerned departments. In the absence of authentic records, actual eligible people have to face serious problems in claiming their rights.
  • Non-recognition of rights in Protected Areas (PA) – In protected areas, the process of settling the claims is extremely slow and also there are efforts to relocate the beneficiaries illegally.
  • Other Traditional Forest Dwellers their claims are not recognized in most states, partly due to wrong interpretation that they required to have occupied land for three generation. No documentary evidence is available to prove that they are living in the area for 75 years.
  • Primitive Tribal Groups – The provision for community/habitat right of Primitive Tribal Group, pre-agricultural communities is not appropriately implemented so far. There is a lack of clarity on the mechanism for claiming right. Such communities are mostly interested in habitats right as it gives them a permanent settlement.
  • Lack of inter-departmental coordination- The tribal department has been declared as the nodal department for the enactment of this Act, but the records for the forest lands are in possession of either forest department or the revenue department. Involvement of three departments – the tribal welfare department, the revenue department, and the forest department make it difficult to have a good liaison between them.
  • Harassment by forest officials under Indian Forest Act 1927 government has arbitrary power to take over forest land without proper rehabilitation of tribals and other forest dwellers, putting them at the risk of harassment by local forest officials, especially in Naxal affected areas. It also results in large-scale rejection of claims in Naxal affected areas.
  • Attempts to dilute the provisions of the act – Now through various legislations and rules the FRA is sought to be violated by side-stepping the Gram Sabha in the name of ease of doing business and wildlife conservation. The Ministries of Tribal Affairs and Environment have been at loggerheads with each other over the need to acquire land, including forest land, for industries.
  • Diverting forest lands for non-forest purposes- There is apprehension that Land Acquisition Act, Mines, and Mineral development Act and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act will make it possible for the government to take away rights given under Forest Rights Act, 2006.

What are the recent issues?

  • The Forest Rights Act was challenged by many petitions which were filed by Wildlife First, an NGO, and retired forest officials.
  • It questions the constitutional validity of the FRA and the problem of forest conservation with respect to it.
  • It blamed the law for indiscriminate clearances (deforestation) and encroachment on forest lands and denial of the rights over the land by the forest dwellers.

What is the stand of the Supreme Court?

  • SC asserted that if the claim is invalidated by the concerned authority = claimant would not be entitled to any land or right under the FRA Act.
    • Furthermore, such a claimant is either needed to be evicted from the claimed land or some other measure should be taken in accordance with the law.
    • The claimant cannot oppose the authority’s decision.
  • With regards to unauthorised possessions of forest land, state governments were directed to report on concrete measures.
  • In its recent order, the SC ordered 21 state governments to undertake evictions of the families whose claims under FRA were rejected.
    • The eviction should be completed by the state governments on or before July 24, 2019. If not, then the matter would be viewed seriously by the Court.
    • The Court directed the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to undertake a satellite survey and record the encroached possession of lands before and after the eviction of rejected claimants.

What are the concerns regarding SC’s order?

Forced Eviction: It would immediately lead to the forced eviction of around 1 million STs and other forest-dwelling people.

Governance:

  • It is unclear whether the Supreme Court has the power to evict STs from Scheduled Areas.
  • Also, there is no reference to the implications for governance in the Scheduled Areas because the constitutional provisions protect the boundaries of Adivasi homelands and restrict interference in self-governance.

Constitutional protection:

  • Around 60 percent of the forest area in India is in tribal regions – these are protected under Article 19(5) and Schedules V and VI of the constitution.
  • It mentions that the State has the authority to make laws for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe.
  • Hence the Court’s order is a violation of the fundamental rights of Adivasis.

What is the way forward?

  • Awareness campaigns: large-scale awareness and information dissemination campaigns should be organised to reach out to the people through radio, television and other media to ensure that people receive the necessary information related to the act.
  • Collaboration with NGOs- there is a need to identify NGOs working in the area to provide backup support to poor tribals and assist them in filing applications, identification, and measurement of land (individual or community) and negotiating with the officials.
  • Capacity building- 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.
  • Maintain village maps at the Panchayat level – 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.
  • Interdepartmental coordination – Steps should be taken to ensure better coordination between revenues department and forest department officials to facilitate the verification of claims within a time frame.
  • 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. Clarity on the time frame can go a long way in improving the settlement process of claims.
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