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Forest rights and heritage conservation

Published: 29th Dec, 2022


In order to declare any area as ‘protected’, there must be consultations with the local populations, as they are the most affected one.

Understanding with the case

  • Of the 39 areas declared by UNESCO in 2012as being critical for biodiversity in the Western Ghats, 10 are in Karnataka.
  • Before recognizing areas as world heritage sites, UNESCO seeks the opinion of the inhabitants on the implication of the possible declaration on their lives and livelihoods.
  • This author interacted with different stakeholders in the gram panchayats located close to the world heritage sites in Karnataka.
    • The primary stakeholders were Scheduled Tribes (STs). Other traditional forest dwellers include Scheduled Castes (SCs), Other Backward Classes, minorities and the general category.
  • An overwhelming majority said that they were not aware of the process that leads to the declaration of UNESCO heritage sites.

The Forest Rights Act

  • The Act seeks to act as an extension to the mandate under the Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of Indiathat seeks to protect the ingenious communities. 
  • It also envisages encouraging local self-governance at the level of the inhabitants.
  • The Act guarantees rights for forest dwellers within different categories. Firstly, for the usage of forest resources – Section 3(1) (c) guarantees the forest dwellers the right to use minor traditionallyobtained forest resources like tendu or herbs.

Who is a forest dweller?

  • The Act also explains what it categorizes as a forest dweller. There are two important stages for the determination of the definition.

The first stage involves conditions that are supposed to be satisfied to qualify as a forest dweller –

  • The person(s) should be inhabiting forests or forest lands.
  • The person should be bonafide dependent on the forest, its land, and resources for their livelihood. 

The second stage involves proving the following –

  • Section 2 (o) of the Act stipulates that the aforementioned conditions of stage 1 need to be true for seventy-five years, a period of which will deem a person as an Other Traditional Forest Dweller. 
  • Section 2 (c) of the Act provides that the person is a member of the Scheduled Tribe.
  • Section 4 (1) of the Act provides that the person is a resident of an area where they are scheduled. In the latter case, the person is deemed to be a Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribe. These sections make it very clear as to whom these rights are for and who can be called a forest dwellerin order for the rights to be guaranteed to them.

Issues faced by forest dwellers

  • Poor implementation remains
  • A large number of tribal communities still have not been granted their traditional rights over the forests.
  • Lack of awareness among the forest dwellers
  • Unfair rejection of claims
  • Lack of intent and cooperation on the part of the bureaucracy to transfer authority to the forest dwellers. 
  • Lack of official and credible data available about the forest dwellers and resources 
  • Illegal encroachments and seizure of forest lands by the administration
  • Forced eviction
  • Majority of the forest dwellers claimed land measuring not more than one acre (Ceiling under FRA- 4 hectares)
  • Severe restrictions
    • Farming is not allowed in a normal way, a slight sound is demurred
    • The use of fertilizers is banned, and even a small knife is not allowed to be carried into the forest.
    • People are prohibited from cutting trees falling

Way forward

  • The government must bring more clarity to the Act to avoid conflicts between the government agencies conserving biodiversity and the people living in the forest for over decades and centuries.
  • Forest dwellers willing to live in the forest must be allowed to stay (Many of them comply with the norms of the eco-sensitive zone)
  • Those wanting to experience the fruits of development must be relocated according to their choice of a new place and a suitable package.
    • This can be possible only when the areas declared as ‘protected’ are arrived at after consultations with the local population.

Verifying, please be patient.

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