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Forest rights and heritage conservation

Published: 29th Dec, 2022

Context

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.
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