The process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA is intensive — rough maps of community and individual claims are prepared democratically by Gram Sabhas. These are then verified on the ground with annotated evidence, before being submitted to relevant authorities.
The Gram Sabha is treated as a public authority under the FRA, and if the higher authorities under the law reject its claims, substantive reasons have to be provided for doing so. This exhaustive process is why the official diktat to implement the FRA so quickly lacks any understanding about the extent of the task and labour involved.
Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control:
Another main factor inhibiting the FRA’s full implementation is the reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control. The forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an instrument to regularise encroachment. This is seen in its emphasis on recognising individual claims while ignoring collective claims — Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights as promised under the FRA — by tribal communities.
To date, the total amount of land where rights have been recognised under the FRA is just 3.13 million hectares, mostly under claims for individual occupancy rights.
Narrow interpretation of the FRA:
The narrow interpretation of the FRA is also to be blamed. It is against the letter and spirit of the law, which seeks to undo historical injustices and return the forests to community jurisdiction. It also contradicts the estimates for forest area collectively used by tribal and other forest communities that are provided by government agencies themselves.
Environment Ministry’s moves:
The Environment Ministry’s conduct also causes concern. Entrusted with stewarding our forests, it has instead concentrated great energy on how to hasten their felling (through the forest clearances it awards). In doing this, it appears that it has, among other things, mounted a prolonged effort to see if and how meaningful community participation can be eliminated from the clearance process.