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What Community Forest Resources Say about India’s Forest Plans

Why is it in the news?

  • Enacted in 2006, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, or FRA, aimed to address the insecurity of tenurial and access rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and traditional forest dwellers.
  • It recognized that historical injustice had not adequately recognized forest rights on ancestral lands, leading to issues for forest-dwelling communities.

 

Key Provisions of FRA

  • FRA prescribed a transparent procedure to record and issue titles for pre-existing rights vested in forest dwellers in 2006. These rights include individual rights for homestead and cultivation, non-transferable inheritance rights, access and use rights of the community for common purposes, development rights, and governance rights over community forest resources.
  • The primary authority to determine and approve these rights is the habitation-level Gram Sabha, not the Gram Panchayat level Gram Sabha.

 

Impact of FRA on Forest Conservation

  • FRA marked a significant change in India’s approach to forest conservation.
  • Prior to FRA, there were widespread illegal evictions and displacement of forest-dwelling communities.
  • The law aimed to free forests and their residents from colonial occupation and governance.
  • FRA assigned rights to protect around 4 crore hectares of community forest resources to village-level democratic institutions.

 

Community Forest Resources (CFR)

  • CFR, as defined by FRA, refers to customary common forest land within the traditional boundaries of villages or seasonal use of landscape for pastoral communities. It includes various types of forests and protected areas.
  • CFR is managed by the Gram Sabha, empowering them to protect wildlife, biodiversity, and ecological sensitive areas.
  • Current Status of CFRs: The Ministry of Tribal Affairs reported issuing titles for forest rights in 18% of forest land, including individual and community rights. However, details on how much of these lands are titled to Gram Sabhas as CFR are not disclosed. Further, the bureaucracy has been reluctant to generate CFR claims and recognize them.

 

Alignment with Other Laws

  • Several other laws related to forests and land have not been fine-tuned with FRA, including the Indian Forest Act 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, and others.
  • Amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 in 2016 incorporated violations of forest rights under FRA as atrocities.
  • The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act 2013 includes provisions for fair compensation, rehabilitation, and resettlement when forest land is acquired, but these are not consistently implemented.

 

Conclusion

  • FRA transferred most of India’s forests back to forest-dwelling communities in law.
  • Forest dwellers, numbering around 15 crores in over 1.7 lakh villages, bear the responsibility to defend FRA, just as they fought for its enactment, in the face of climate change and ongoing dispossession.

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