AIR spotlight summary on “Forest Rights of Tribals”.
At the tribal carnival held in New Delhi prime minister has reiterated emphasised that the tribals should get their titles regard to their forest land according to Forest Rights Act, 2006. A committee will be setup to monitor the implementation. The implementation process is quite slow though it has been good in state like Tripura. Out of about 41 Lakh claims, so far only 16 lakh claims have been settled.
Forest Rights during colonial period
- The Forest Rights Act, 2006 is a radical change in the sense that during colonial time forests have all been declared to be owned by government and people living on forest produce, living along the forest suddenly became trespasses. The reality on ground is that these people are not intruders, they have been living in the forest traditionally for generations.
- If we trace the rights of the people over forest, it was during the colonial period the people had lost their rights.
Forest Rights after Independence
- Post Independence the National Forest Policy was adopted, subsequently community forest management programmes like Joint Forest Management and Community Forest Management Programmes were implemented from 1990 onwards with people participation. Until then there was mistrust about how forests are being managed and people felt alienated especially in forest areas where tribals are living in large numbers.
- Post Independence most of the forests have degraded and when the government started course correction in 1990 onwards we are coming across the idea of people’s rights over forest land and forest resources. There has been a long struggle for the land that they are dependent for their livelihood and survival.
Recognising Forest Rights to tribals
- The forest department declares it as reserve forest or protected area or tiger reserve where the people’s rights were negated. The alienation forms the basis for the act which tries to restore the lost rights to these communities who are supposed to be the beneficiaries.
- Historically tribals dint own land individually, it was a collective ownership. That collective ownership was denied for many decades. The Forest Rights Act tries to restore and course correct the situation. According to the data the individual claims are more than the community claim. Many communities are not aware of the new changes made in the Forest Rights Act. People are not sufficiently empowered to make use of it.
- There are many problems at the implementation level. One such problem is that many states have not sufficiently advertised and generated awareness among people about the community claims. Community rights will help the individuals and better guarantee for protecting and sustaining the forest.
- The land becomes an important resource. Ownership of land at individual level is becoming increasingly important. This has begun even in tribal areas. At individual level they can make a claim for agricultural usage, but at community level the claim is for grazing land which is for common purpose. Allowing forest land for grazing purpose is like recognising the already existing practice.
- Many NGO’s and community based organisations are making a specific demand for the collective claims which have to be recognised and settled. The government has all the data required to do this and can encourage the villagers through Gram Sabha to make those claims. The initiative has to be from the government side.
Community participation in Forest Conservation
- Until people were involved in planning and implementation of forest conservation, development and extracting forest resources like minor forest produce in a sustainable way, the situation was deteriorating.
- Joint Forest Management Programmes which started involving people in restoring degraded forest. The degraded forest have been regenerated, the land lost to cultivation has been restored to the forest land. Also the resources that were dwindling in forest areas with deforestation have been improved. The forest cover has been considerably increased post Joint Forest Management Programme implementation.
- The importance of Forest Rights Act is that it is recognising the legitimate rights of forest dwellers including the tribals. The tribals do not own any land like other communities who are living in villages and have no other livelihood.
- The government had recognised that the only way to protect forest is through the communities who live in and around the forest. The forest guards and the forest administrators would not be able to protect the forest. Community participation is required for the forests to survive.
- In the forest conservation development programmes people have demonstrated that they are in favour of protection and conservation of forests. They have contributed immensely to restore the degenerated forest. They are conserving the forest resource in a sustainable manner.