Context: Draft fresh guidelines for community forest, habitat rights:
Draft guidelines were prepared by two committees formed by MoTA in February 2020-Committee on Management of Community Forest Rights (CFR) and Committee on Habitat rights.
Guidelines for CFR are aimed at creating a community forests resource management committee as an executive arm of Gram Sabha in managing CFR areas.
Guidelines for habitat rights define habitat rights and provide a distinction between habitat rights and Community Forest Rights (CFR).
CFR under Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act [FRA] 2006 empowers Gram Sabhas to conserve and manage their forest.
Role of Gram Sabhas in community forest rights (CFR) and habitat rights:
- Gram Sabhas will have more power in the management of community forest rights (CFR) and habitat rights, according to new guidelines drafted by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) in December 2020.
- An increased representation of various user groups such as the graziers, minor forest produce collectors, women and other groups dependent on forest including hamlets also find mention in the two drafts.
- They have submitted the drafts to the Union tribal ministry for review.
- The guidelines for CFR are aimed at creating community forests resource management committee (CFRMC) as an executive arm of the Gram Sabha in managing CFR areas.
According to the draft, the Gram Sabhas will:
- Integrate the committees that it has had traditional rights with for protection of wildlife, forest and biodiversity, catchment areas, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas
- Be empowered to carry out the powers and authority as laid down under section 5 of FRA
- File complaint before the state level monitoring committee (SLMC) under section 7 and 8 of the Act in case of any violation
- Make rules and issue appropriate directions for governance and conservation of CFR, including functions of CFRMC; conflict / dispute resolution; benefit sharing; issuance of transit permit; fund management and etc., regulating powers, functions and activities of the CFRMC
- Make rules or issue directions for management of fund generated from various sources
- Approve CFR conservation and management plan / strategies / actions prepared / suggested by the CFRMC. If required, the Gram Sabha can modify suggested plans / actions / strategies including CFR conservation and management plans
- Appoint any person or hire any institution for extending support to the Gram Sabha for preparation of CFR conservation and management plan, financial management system or activities coming under the purview of the Gram Sabha
- Resolve any conflict or dispute related to the CFR governance and management
The guidelines also propose financial independence of the Gram Sabha through a fund, which would get the money from the sale of forest produce, development grant from the government and non-profits as well as compensatory afforestation funds.
The committee headed by Saxena was formed to guide the Gram Sabhas in managing and conserving their CFR areas in a sustainable fashion.
Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act [FRA] 2006, Gram Sabhas can claim collective ownership over a patch of forest traditionally owned and used by the village in the form of CFR.
The provision grants them the right to manage and conserve their CFR area.
Habitat Rights under the Forest Rights Act:
- The draft created by the committee observes that FRA doesn’t define habitat, but merely hints at its importance.
- It also defines habitat as places where tribal and other traditional forest dwellers have ancient connections in spiritual, cultural, social (burial grounds, birth places, temples, deities, lands perceived as abodes of deities including ancestors, sacred lands and plants, and areas used for festivals and processions) and livelihood matters (areas used for forest produce collection, fishing sources, seasonal cultivation areas, and collection of medicinal plants.
- Habitat rights under the FRA are granted to the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG).
- Since the PVTGs are pre-agriculture communities, these rights are given over a fairly large area. However, the FRA isn’t clear on the nature of the right.
- Section 3(1)(e) of the act says that these rights are “include community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities.”
- In the first habitat right granted to Madhya Pradesh’s Baiga community in 2015, a tiger was used as an example to explain the community’s habitat.
- Tigers roam a large area in a forest when they hunt, and national parks as a whole become the habitat of the tiger, not just its dwelling, which could be a cave.
- There are 75 PVTG communities across India and yet, only a few habit rights titles have been given so far.
- MoTA, therefore, constituted an expert committee on February, 2020 to improve recognition and vesting process of community rights under FRA with special focus on habitat rights of PVTG.
The following are included in habitat rights:
Habitat rights can be defined as a bundle of rights comprising of these connections with the landscape: livelihood, social, and cultural practices embedded in the territory that forms their habitat.
Many of these rights are not necessarily exclusive to one community and are often shared with other communities living in the habitat area based on traditions of mutuality and reciprocity.
- Right to perform all customary religious or cultural ceremonies in the landscape related to their clans
- Right to protect and conserve the natural entities and sacred sites recognised under habitat rights
- Right to protect and conserve places important for religious and spiritual purposes such as sacred groves; the right of passage to abodes of deities in forests, hill tops, origin of rivers and other remote parts of forests
- Right to practice traditional cultivation systems and other livelihood generating activities including seasonal resource use
- Habitat rights exclude any traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal
The draft also recommended training of state government officials for a better understanding the importance of FRA and habitat rights.
The idea of these guidelines is to bring the forest governance outside the colonial approach and really decentralise and democratise it.
Steps taken by Government to support tribal communities during COVID-19 pandemic:
Central government issued guidelines aiming to relax the provisions of lockdown for Collection, harvesting and processing of Minor Forest Produce(MFP)/ Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) by STs and other forest dwellers in forest areas across the country.
Ministry of Tribal Affairs also revised the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Minor Forest Produce (MFP), offering much-needed support to tribal gatherers in view of the exceptional and very difficult circumstances prevailing in the country due to the Corona Virus Pandemic.
The purpose of providing the community forest, habitat rights is to establish community-driven, sustainable forest management and agroforestry systems to maintain biodiversity and other environmental services, buffer habitat quality, secure land rights and improve livelihoods.
Successful, village-level, multifunctional landscape management approaches improve economic development and effectively influence government development efforts.
The maintenance and improvement of multiple environmental services, that is, biodiversity, hydrology and climate regulation in a sustainable landscape, are promoted through integrated, inclusive and informed land-use planning at district level.