The farmers’ and forest dwellers’ march from Nashik to Mumbai, and the Maharashtra government’s decision to approve most of their demands within the next six months, has established the fact that land and forest rights are going to be determining factors for political establishments across India.
- The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or FRA was a landmark legislation that sought to restore the rights of forest dwellers over land, community forest resources and habitats, and the governance and management of forests.
- But even 11 years after implementation of FRA, out of 41,89,827 claims for land rights made by forest dwellers, only 18,24,271 have been accepted by the authorities.
- Even the recognition process of rights is poor, which has resulted in the rejection of thousands of legitimate claims made by forest dwellers.
- In some cases titles have been given over less area than what was legitimately claimed by forest dwellers.
Conflicting policies that go against the spirit of the FRA
- The Village Forest Rules notification in May 2014 of Maharashtra under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, place the governance of forests in the hands of committees that are constituted and controlled by the forest department, including in areas where the community forest rights are yet to be claimed, have been claimed or received.
- Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and many other states have forced plantations on recognised individual and community forest areas without communities’ consent.
- The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act 2016 was passed to manage the more than Rs 50,000 crore fund to be used for plantation, despite protests from tribal organisations across the country.
- The CAF Act has been structured in a manner that it provides total control of the massive fund to the forest bureaucracy with virtually no political accountability and consent of the gram sabha for plantation activity in their recognised and potential community forest areas.
The government should understand the potential of the FRA to address rural distress and not subvert its provisions. The state governments across the country should bring amendments to their forest law, especially laws related to minor forest produce, so that millions of forest dwellers will benefit from their access to forest resources. With assembly elections due in three major forested states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — the political potential of the FRA should not be ignored.