The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 also known as “Forest Rights Act” 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” committed against the forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been living in and around the forests for centuries.
(i) TERI’s report provided satellite images of land patches where forest cover existed before 2005 but was flattened later.
TERI report reveals an increasing tendency at the village-level to claim as much forestland as possible. This will lead in more deforestation, exploitation of water, desertification, lack of carbon sequestration and further vulnerability to climate change.
(ii) When governments do not recognize or enforce community forest rights, communities are often powerless to keep external forces such as unscrupulous actors in the timber and oil industries or illegal settlers from destroying forests.
(iii) Since there is no cut off date for the receipt of new claims and gram sabhas are empowered
to extend the 90-day window for such pleas, this process has become a never ending one.
(iv) The Forest Survey of India’s (FSI) State of the Forest Report has documented that 67,900 ha of forest cover has been lost in 188 tribal districts between 2009 and 2011, mainly due to encroachments.
(v) The Forest Department continues to be seen as an obstacle, despite attempts to limit its role in the implementation.
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.
Inter departmental 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.
The historical injustice perpetrated against forest dwellers is unlikely to subside with the passage of a single law. However, the Forest Rights Act could, if implemented in letter and spirit, be a significant step towards this goal. In terms of scope and reach, effective implementation of FRA can indeed be one of the largest exercises of land reform India has ever seen and an effective climate mitigation strategy.