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Odisha became the first State to fully implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006

Context

Considering Tribal Rights and their land ownership, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 has been targeted to fully implement by Odisha.

Background

  • Odisha is going to become the first State in the country to make budgetary provision for the implementation of the Central Act – ?8 crores for 168 FRA cells in 2021-22.
  • Till 2021, the forest rights committees were functioning in Tribal Sub Plan areas but now, they have been extended to the entire State.
  • As per the provisions of the Act and the rules framed thereunder, the forest rights related to the conversion of forest villages into revenue villages are to be adjudicated by the Gram Sabha, Sub-Divisional Level Committee, and the District Level Committee.

Analysis

Features of the Act

  • The act recognizes and vests the forest rights and occupation in Forest land in forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who have been residing in such forests, for generations.
  • The act also establishes the responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of an ecological balance of FDST and OTFD.
  • It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring the livelihood and food security of the FDST and OTFD.
  • It seeks to rectify colonial injustice to the FDST and OTFD who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.

The act identifies four types of rights:

  • Title rights: It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership of land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares. Ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands will be granted.
  • Use rights: The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
  • Relief and development rights: To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
  • Forest management rights: It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been conserved.

What is the need to fully implement this act in Tribal dominated areas?

  • For providing Tribal Rights: The acts replace the wrong points of government policies in both colonial and independent India toward forest-dwelling communities, whose claims over their resources were taken away during the 1850s.
  • Preserving Culture: The act also has the potential of sustainably protecting forests through traditional ways along with providing tribes with means of livelihood.
  • Fully Coverage of Rural areas: It expands the mandate of the Fifth and the Sixth Schedules of the Constitution that protect the claims of indigenous communities over tracts of land or forests they inhabit.
  • To reduce Naxal insurgencies: The alienation of tribes was one of the factors behind the Naxal movement, which affects states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Jharkhand. The act through identifying IFR and CFR tries to provide inclusion to tribes.
  • Democratize the Forest governance: It has the potential to democratize forest governance by recognizing community forest resource rights over an estimated 85.6 million acres, thereby empowering over 200 million forest dwellers in over 1,70,000 villages.
  • Empowering Tribals: The act will ensure that people get to manage their forest on their own which will regulate the exploitation of forest resources by officials, forest governance and management as well as tribal rights, etc.

Who can avail of the Rights mentioned under Forest Rights act, 2006?

  • Members or communities of the Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs.

Gram Sabha

Article- 243G: The Constitution mentions that the Gram Sabha exercises such powers and performs such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide.

  • It can also be claimed by any member or community who has for at least three generations (75 years) before the 13th day of December 2005 primarily resided in forest land for bona fide livelihood needs.
  • The Gram Sabha is the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of Individual Forest Rights (IFR) or Community Forest Rights (CFR) or both that may be given to FDST and OTFD.

What is the procedure to implement the rights under the Act?

  • Recommendation by Gram Sabha:
  • First, the gram sabha (full village assembly, NOT the gram panchayat) makes a recommendation – i.e who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce is collected, etc.
  • The gram sabha plays this role because it is a public body where all people participate, and hence is fully democratic and transparent.
  • Screening committee: The gram sabha’s recommendation goes through two stages of screening committees at the taluka and district levels.
    • The district-level committee makes the final decision. The Committees have six members – three government officers and three elected persons.
  • At both the taluka and the district levels, any person who believes a claim is false can appeal to the Committees, and if they prove their case the right is denied (sections 6(2) and 6(4)).
  • Recognition: Finally, land recognized under this Act cannot be sold or transferred.

Challenges in implementing the Act

  • Implementation issues
  • Lack of Awareness
  • The reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control
  • Institutional Roadblock

Conclusion

Forest Rights Act, 2006 was one of the major steps in the path of empowering Tribals who are vulnerable. Tribal rights are important for their survival and conserve their culture. At the same time, local community participation in forest conservation is also being targeted at the same time.

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