Let me first state about the Forest Rights Bill and the names of the members who helped in passing it in the Indian Parliament. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2006, as passed by Lok Sabha, India.
Shri P.R.Kyndiah, Minister of Tribal Affairs, moved motion for the consideration of the Bill.
The following hon’ble members took part in the discussion:-
1. Shri Kanjibhai Patel 2. Shri Nabam Rebia 3. Shri Mahendra Mohan 4. Shrimati Brinda Karat
5. Dr. Radhakant Nayak 6. Shri Abani Roy 7. Dr. Barun Mukherjee 8. Shri Syed Azeez Pasha 9. Shri B.S Gnanadesikan 10. Sri Mangani Lal Mandal 12. Shri Bhagirathi Majhi
The bill was passed in the Indian Parliament with some amendments to the Recommendations of the JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee)
Let us first have a look into the Forest Act of 1980 with amendments on 1988:
(A Portion of the act is given below: If there is any mistake, please do let us know)
1. Short title, extent and commencement:
1. The act may be called the Forest(Conservation) Act, 1980.
2. It extends to the whole of India except the states of Jammu and Kashmir.
3. It shall be deemed to have come into force on the 25th of October, 1980.
Restriction on the dereservation of forests or use of forest land for non forest purpose
Nothwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force in a State, no State government or other authority shall make, except with the prior approval of the Central Government, any order directing –
(1) that any reserve forest (within the meaning of the expression “reserve forest” in any law for the time being in force in that state) or any portion thereof, shall cease to be reserved;
(2) that any forest land or any portion thereof may be used for any non-forest purpose.
(3) that any forest land or any portion thereof may be assigned by way of lease or otherwise to any private person or any authority, corporation, agency or any other organization not owned, managed or controlled by the Government.
(4) that any forest land or any portion thereof may be cleared of trees which have grown naturally in that land or portion, for the purpose of using it for reafforestation.
Explanation – For the purpose of this section, “non-forest purpose” means the breaking up or clearing of any forest land or portion thereof for –
(a) cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil bearing plants, horticulture crops or medicinal plants;
(b) any purpose other than reafforestation;
but doesnot include any work relating or ancillary to conservation, development and management of forests and wildlife, namely the establishment of check posts, fire lines, wireless communictions and construction of fencing, bridges and culverts, dams, water holes and trench marks, boundary marks, pipe lines or other like purposes.
Analysis of the effect of the recent bill passed:
Some has the view that the tribes, consisting about 8.4% of the population, have been denied access to benefits of land and forest by both mideaval and moderate states, which encouraged landlords to settle on fertile agricultural tracts. It was also thought that this was done to gain complete monopoly over the forests. But at a later stage there were lots of protests by the forest dwellers over access to forest products for their living. All these pressures forced the Indian ruling class to set up welfare mechanisms for the tribal people. It was then stressed by India to set up mechanisms that would democratise community institutions and allow tribal people to shape their own destines thorugh the creation of fifth and sixth schedules on the Indian Constitution. It was due to large scale displacement faced due to large projects initiated by the State showed that, the poorest tribal people were victims rather than subjects of mainstream economic development. It was during that time that organizations of neo-Gandhian and radical environmental groups persuaded a movement against the displacement of the tribal people. These movements, which were a series of local-area-level struggles for land and forest access, argued for an alternative form of forest management, whose main principle would be customary access and community control.
This naturally meant that the state would need to loosen its hold over forests and create space for informal systems of management, which earned the name ‘community forestry’.
Now, this was quite unacceptable as these may lead to some vested interests in some forest products and can lead to large scale deforestation. The challange became more stiffer as on one side the state have to ensure access to land and forest resources for providing livelihood security and two; to democratise forest management in a manner that counters corporate-led development.
It was during that time the Forest Rights Bill was introduced in the Indian Parliament.
Now the min problem was; many tribal people who couldnot prove that they were living in forests before October 25, 1908 , had been termed as “encroachers”, (Forest Conservation Act, 1980). This led the state to notice an eviction order to these people in May, 2002. This led to an widespread agitation not only among the tribals but also among some representatives of the people. It was that time that the Left parties along with the tribals pressurized the Government to expand the scale and scope of the Bill. It was then the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was set up to look into the Bill.
JPC recommendations in short:
1. Cut-off date for the settlement of rights should be extended from October 25th, 1980 to December 13, 2005, the date on which the Bill was first tabled in the Parliament.
2. Inclusion of non-scheduled Tribe “traditional forest dwellers” within its ambit as long as they have lived in the forest for three generations.
3. Attempt to introduce an independent and participatory scientific process, by which ‘critical wildlife areas” would be identified and relocated from them, if found necessary on mutually acceptable terms.
4. It did include paragraphs to strengthen the democratic process and the rights of the pople by making the gram sabha the “final authority” in the settlement of local rights.
5. New provisions to recognize the rights of displaced and rehabilitated people.
6. JPC recommended the inclusion of the right of multiple land use for people doing shifting culitivation, the recognition of the rights of communities to conserve their forests , and the removal of the land ceiling 2.5 hectares for land rights.
7. It recommended that the people’s right to development be recognized through this proposed act.
Some limitations are : It didnot take into account issues relating to the ecological health of the resource and fringe area development.
But the Government and the Environmentalists also have their own concern; that is any legislation on forest rights, therefore needs also to have clear provisions for the protections of forests and their biodiversity. So, the Government changed some portion of the recommendations of the bill and passed it in the Indian Parliament.
The most intense battles between wildfires and Adivasi rights advocates have been over the Bills provision relating to protected areas (PAs). It is undeniable that such areas have been the single most important step towards halting the rapid decimation of India’s Wildlife.
Without them many of our Species would be History. Perhaps many have remembered the stories of the Indian Rhinocerous and the Asiatic lion, among others.
On the other hand, it is also true that many of the protected areas are inhabited by communities; some living before even the protected areas were notified! Now, the only solution is to make them also participate for conservation and also recognise their basic rights to survival. Some other provisions that could enhance conservation considerably have largely been overlooked. Communities will have now have the right to “protect, regenerate, or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting or conserving for sustainable use.”
But here lies the problems. Some NGO’s like Kalpavriksh, Vasundhara etc have shown that there are thousands of community-conserved areas (CCAs) in India, 10,000 community forests in Orissa, forests protected under tribal self-rule in Central India, catchment forests conserved in Rajasthan, Nagaland and Mizoram, and so on, all together covering lakhs of hectares. Most of these are Government forests, with hardly any Government staffs present. Most of them doesnot have legal backing and are open to DAMAGE AND DESTRUCTION BY OUTSIDERS. Many vested interests may lead to pushing outsiders into the forest premises and thus can demand the facilities of the Forest. It can lead to destruction of the sanctity, quiteness and beauty of the forest as well as loss of biodiversity. India has lost much forests and the world needs forests to save ourselves. If we don’t; our survival will be at stake. Forest are also the home to hundreds to species and also are carbon sinks. There are also lots of usefulness of forests which are known to everyone. Thats the reason the Government’s concern need to be given importance.
So, according to me; the only solution is; we need a lot of awareness programs about forestry and also should aware the original dwellers the importance of forests. Its only together we can save forests and also its tribes and thus a stop another disaster happening…
Mr. Mainak Majumdar
Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant